Omicron omnishambles

The scary charts are back. Rapidly rising case numbers in South Africa and the identification of a new coronavirus variant with an alarming number of mutations means the pandemic has returned to the top of the political agenda.

Relatively little is known about Omicron at the moment. We do know that the variant is already in the United States and is likely to lead to a spike in case numbers. (We also know that the WHO skipped over the Greek letter “Nu” because it sounds the same as “new” and passed on “Xi” lest anyone get the right idea about who is to blame for the pandemic.)  The all important unknown is the question of the severity of the disease caused by Omicron, though there is some hope in the reports from South African doctors of mild symptoms in patients fighting the new variant.

As stocks tumble, travel bans are reimposed and the fun-sponges who have thrived in the age of social distancing find themselves armed with fresh spike proteins, back on the moral high ground and ready to tell us how to live our lives, I sympathize with my Spectator colleague Matt Purple, who gets plenty of frustration at the great Omicron panic out of his system in his latest offering.

But, renewed and refreshed from a Thanksgiving break — and because Matt says everything that needs to be said about the dreary way in which the latest pandemic development “makes the pre-Covid era an even more distant speck in the rear-view mirror” — let’s take the news as an opportunity to look at Joe Biden’s pandemic response.

Joe Biden has now been president for almost half of the pandemic. He owes his presidency to a promise to do what Trump couldn’t and bring the virus under control with competent policymaking. And yet, his record on the coronavirus is decidedly patchy.

More Americans have died of Covid-19 in 2021 than in 2020, a year when there were no widely available vaccines. Not all of this is Biden’s fault, but his administration long ago settled into the unconstructive habit of Covid victim-blaming and offers little beyond ostentatious hygiene theater and the obviously incorrect claim that with one more push — dutiful masking and a few million more vaccines — the pandemic will become a thing of the past.

Federal public health policy has become little more than a vaccine ad campaign. But even here, the messaging has been confusing. On boosters, the administration likely slowed down the rollout with confusing eligibility requirements. The administration’s flagship measure to boost vaccine uptake among those hesitant to get the shot, an employer test-or-vax mandate, is poorly targeted, focusing as it does on working-age Americans and has come a cropper in the courts.

Meanwhile, Biden has done little to help Americans adapt to live with the virus. Rapid tests, which could be used to coax the most neurotic Covid warriors back into something resembling a normal life, remain needlessly expensive, excessively regulated and not nearly as widely promoted as they have been in other countries.

At the heart of the America’s lackluster Covid adaptation (a bipartisan failing, to be clear) sits America’s public health and medical authorities, the CDC and the FDA foremost among them. Time and again, they have failed to appreciate the importance of speed in fighting a pandemic. And Biden has done next to nothing to address this problem.

That remains an issue with lethal consequences. Just look at the extraordinarily effective Covid-fighting antivirals that still haven’t been approved. Drug companies have said they can quickly roll out mRNA vaccines tailored to dangerous new variants.

Americans need the drugs and tests that help them get on with their lives while minimizing lives lost to Covid-19. They don’t need never-ending emergency measures that in many cases do more harm than good.

On the core promise of pandemic competency, the president has fallen short. For example, Biden is yet to nominate a new FDA chief. Why? Because the administration failed to submit the paperwork on time. Biden introduced a travel ban in response to Omicron this weekend. But he said it would not come into effect until today, as though the virus takes the weekend off.

The adults are back in charge, declared Team Biden in the hubristic early phase of his presidency. It was a cringe-inducing and self-regarding then. Looking back on it now, it feels more like a sick joke.

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The never-ending courtroom drama

With Kyle Rittenhouse found not guilty and Ahmaud Arbery’s killers behind bars, we now move on to two more blockbuster hearings. Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial begins in New York while Jussie Smollett, the actor who concocted a now-debunked account of a MAGA assault, faces charges of disorderly conduct in Chicago.

Once upon a time, there was more to American public life than a never-ending series of high-profile, politically inflammatory criminal trials. But these days, it seems that as soon as one enervating, divisive courtroom drama comes to an end, another one begins.

He’s not running (yet)

After months of speculation, the actor Matthew McConaughey yesterday announced that he will not be running for Texas governor. In a short video posted to Twitter, the Lone Star native said: “As a simple kid born in the little town of Uvalde, Texas, it never occurred to me that I would one day be considered for political leadership. It’s a humbling and inspiring path to ponder. It is also a path that I’m choosing not to take at this moment.”

What you should be reading today

Peter Van Buren: Wokeness comes for the Tenement Museum
Rachel K. Paulose: The verdict of the Ahmaud Arbery trial points towards hope
Jane Stannus: Is the supply chain stealing Christmas — or are the mandates?
Thomas Hogan, City Journal: Guaranteed murder
Susan Crabtree, RealClearPolitics: Teacher unions and parents gird for 2022 battles
Laura Vozella, Washington Post: Youngkin tests activists’ patience as he pushes guns and abortion aside

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 41.7 percent
Disapprove: 52.5 percent
Net approval: -10.8 (RCP Average)

Voters’ top concerns
The government/poor leadership: 21 percent
Coronavirus/diseases: 13 percent
The economy in general: 10 percent
Immigration: 9 percent
High cost of living/inflation: 7 percent (Gallup)

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