US President Biden says his administration has to "do more" to provide Covid testing, as the number of infections nationwide surges due to the Omicron variant.

Biden warns that despite ramping up testing capacity, it's still not enough as tens of millions are still unvaccinated.
Biden warns that despite ramping up testing capacity, it's still not enough as tens of millions are still unvaccinated. (Reuters)

President Joe Biden has said some US hospitals could be "overrun" by Covid cases, but the country is generally well prepared to meet the latest surge and that Americans need not panic.

Biden spoke on Monday as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of Covid-19 continued to punch holes in airlines' busy Christmas holiday schedules, prompting lead White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci to suggest that a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel might be necessary.

In a virtual meeting hosted by the White House with several state governors and top health advisors, Biden stressed that the Omicron variant would not have the same impact as the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 or the Delta surge this year.

"Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic," he said.

Testing is more widely available and mass vaccinations mean that for many people infections do not lead to serious illness.

"Because there have been so many vaccinations and boosters, we're not seeing hospitalisations rising as much as they did previously," he said. 

"Americans, America have made progress. Things are better."

But "with the rising cases, we still have tens of millions of unvaccinated people and we're seeing hospitalisations rise," he said. 

There are "hospitals in some places that are going to be overrun both in terms of equipment and staff."

Biden said that his administration will be purchasing 500 million rapid at-home tests, which, he said will be "sent to the American people for free that request it."

'We have to do more'

Biden acknowledged that despite ramping up testing capacity, it's "clearly not enough."

"Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do," he said.

In addition to expanding free testing sites, the administration will soon send 500 million at-home test kits to Americans, Biden said.

But "if we'd known, we would have gone harder, quicker," Biden said. "We have to do more."

The United States has recorded the world's highest national pandemic toll, with more than 816,000 recorded Covid deaths and 52 million cases.

International comparisons are skewed by differences in the accuracy of governments' reporting methods, while on a per capita basis the US death rate is further down the list.

Pandemic politics
Hampering the US response has been fierce political resistance to vaccines that were developed at record speed in 2020.

Many Republicans in particular are resisting the Biden administration's push to mandate the shots in large businesses. 

There has also been reluctance, again mostly in Republican circles, to get booster shots.

Source: AFP