President Joe Biden on Wednesday avoided using the term “pandemic” to describe the coronavirus outbreak during an address to world leaders amid criticisms over his remarks that the COVID-19 pandemic is “over.”
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“In the last year, our world has experienced great upheaval: growing crisis and food insecurity, record heat, floods and droughts, COVID-19, inflation and a brutal, needless war,” Biden told the mostly maskless United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York City.
In a big shift from last year’s remarks, the president only used the word “pandemic” once while describing a fund to prepare for future outbreaks. In the previous year’s address, the word “pandemic” was in Biden’s third sentence after he removed his mask while he approached the podium.
“We’ve lost so much to this devastating pandemic that continues to claim lives around the world and impact so much on our existence,” Biden told the U.N. General Assembly exactly one year ago.
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Much has changed in the past year, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was the focus of most of Biden’s address on Wednesday.
But the remarks did little to offer clarity on the president’s statement to “60 Minutes” that the pandemic is “over.” In the interview that aired on Sunday, Biden cited a decline in mask-wearing, noting that people are in “pretty good shape.”
“The pandemic is over,” Biden said. “We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it, but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
During remarks at a Democratic National Committee event on Tuesday evening, Biden acknowledged that he has been criticized for the comment and attempted to clarify what he meant.
“The pandemic is, quote, ‘over,’ as I got criticized for saying,” Biden said on Tuesday. “But it basically is not where it was.”
Biden’s team has been working to walk back his statement without fully revoking it.
Leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci told Politico that “what he really meant is that the very severe stage of the pandemic of having … 3,000 deaths a day – that stage is no longer present,” but that “people should not be cavalier that we’re out of the woods.”
Fauci similarly had to backtrack his own comment that the U.S. is “out of the pandemic phase” in April.
But the president’s remarks could lead to lasting issues. Republicans in Congress are already using Biden’s statement to question why the White House has requested additional COVID-19 funds if the pandemic is “over.”
Meanwhile, both the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health emergency declaration for the U.S. and the World Health Organization’s public health emergency of international concern for COVID-19 remain in place.