(WASHINGTON) — The White House on Thursday defended President Joe Biden’s handling of coronavirus testing after the president said in an exclusive interview with ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir that he wished he would have ordered hundreds of millions of tests for Americans sooner and that “nobody” predicted the emergence of the omicron variant.
The president this week announced new plans to slow the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, including purchasing 500 million at-home rapid tests and, starting next month, distributing them to Americans, free of charge.
“I wish I had thought about ordering” 500 million at-home tests “two months ago,” he told Muir on Wednesday during a sit-down interview at the White House.
ABC News’ Alex Presha asked Psaki why Biden’s administration couldn’t have at least foreseen a spike in demand for tests prior to holiday gatherings, regardless of the variants – since Americnas scrambled to get tested last year, too.
The rapid, at-home tests have been hard to find ahead of the Christmas holiday.
“I don’t think last Christmas people were rushing to get tests,” Psaki said, noting that over-the-counter tests were not available like they are this year. But last year, Americans did face long lines at testing centers and other locations.
Psaki pointed out that vaccinations have transformed the country this year compared to last year, when only a small number of Americans could receive vaccinations.
She also defended Biden’s remark to Muir that “nobody” predicted the omicron variant’s emergence, when in fact, infectious disease experts had warned of new variants.
“Nobody saw it coming,” Biden told Muir Wednesday. “Nobody in the whole world. Who saw it coming? “
Muir pressed Biden: “Scientists have long said that when you’re dealing with the coronavirus, COVID-19, that there are going to be mutations, that most likely over time it is going to become very transmissible because this virus is trying to stay alive, trying to survive. So did the administration not expect that there could be moments like this one where you’d have a highly transmissible variant possible around the corner?”
“It was possible,” Biden replied. “And it’s possible there could be other variants that come along. That’s possible. But what do you plan for? You plan for what you think is available, that is the most likely threat that exists at the time, and you respond to it. And I think that that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Psaki similarly told reporters that “we of course knew that there would be additional variants at some point coming we didn’t know what they would look like.”
“I would say that nobody saw – knew that there would be the number of different variants, nobody knew exactly how transmissible they would be,” she said.
Psaki was on defense, too, about Biden’s comment that he wished he thought of ordering 500 million tests two months ago.
“June was a long time ago, but before that delta variant was on the rise, there was not a demand for testing in this country,” she said. “There really wasn’t. Then delta obviously increased the demand.”
She argued that Biden did, in fact, work to increase testing capacity by using a law known as the Defense Production Act to expand the supply of at-home tests.
“Without that, we wouldn’t have the supply in the market,” she said.
Biden also told Muir that when it came to the availability of at-home coronavirus tests in the United States, “nothing’s been good enough.”
Psaki said what Biden “was acknowledging, which he said in his speech a couple of days ago as well, is that we’re not where we need to be on testing.
“No one is saying we are,” she added.
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