WILMINGTON, DE: US President-elect Joe Biden acknowledges the press while departing the Queen Theater after addressing the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. - AFP

WILMINGTON: US President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday vowed a relentless effort to fight Covid-19 the moment he takes office, as he warned that Donald Trump's vaccination drive was falling dangerously short. Speaking after a briefing by experts, Biden promised that as president he will undertake the "greatest operational challenge we've ever faced as a nation" to inoculate against the illness that has claimed more than 1.7 million lives globally.

"The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling far behind," Biden said, promising: "I'm going to move Heaven and Earth to get us going in the right direction." The Trump administration had predicted that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of December. With less than three days left, some 2.1 million have received the first shot of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden, who takes office on January 20, confirmed that he would invoke the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to force private industry to step up vaccine production for the government. He also implored Americans to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and said he would impose a mandate on face covers in areas where the federal government has jurisdiction, such as airplanes.

"We're planning a whole-of-government effort and we're going to work to set up vaccination sites and send mobile units to hard-to-reach communities," Biden said. "We're going to make sure vaccines are distributed equitably so every person can get one, no matter the color of their skin and where they live."

He voiced confidence of a return to normality in 2021 -- but not immediately. "We might not see improvement until we're well into March as it will take time for our COVID response plan to begin to produce visible progress," Biden said. "The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough-a very tough period for our nation, maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic."

The US recorded 245,500 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 3,223 more deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins university. The country has notched up more than 19.5 million cases and more than 337,000 deaths since the pandemic began, both the worst tolls in absolute terms globally.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, facing a humiliating first veto override of his presidency, lashed out at Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday as relations soured ahead of a crucial pair of runoff elections in Georgia that could determine control of the Senate. The 74-year-old Trump, in a series of tweets from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he is on vacation, took aim at erstwhile close ally Senator Mitch McConnell, the powerful Republican Majority Leader.

"Weak and tired Republican 'leadership' will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass," Trump said of the looming override by the Senate of his veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. "A disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech," said Trump, who vetoed the defense bill in part because it does not repeal Section 230, a federal law that provides liability protection to internet companies.

"Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW!" he said. "Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!" Trump also criticized McConnell's refusal to allow a vote in the Senate to increase coronavirus relief payments to Americans to $2,000 from $600, a move approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives already with wide bipartisan support. - AFP