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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The big picture: Money alone can't save us from the virus, and Biden's plan is far from guaranteed to become law, but boosting funding for testing and vaccinations could help bolster the public health tools that experts have been saying for months are vital, yet inadequate.

Details: Biden's plan calls for $20 billion for a national vaccine program, which would create community vaccination centers around the country and send mobile vaccination units to areas that are hard to reach.

  • It would also provide an additional $50 billion for testing and $130 billion to help schools safely reopen.
  • Other elements of the plan, like emergency paid leave, would indirectly help tame the virus by helping people stay home when they're sick without sacrificing income.

Biden also slipped one of the biggest pieces of his plan to strengthen the Affordable Care Act into the proposal, which he says is in response to the millions of Americans who have lost health coverage during the pandemic.

  • He calls for an increase of ACA subsidies, so that enrollees pay no more than 8.5% of their income for coverage. Subsidies are currently capped at 400% of the federal poverty level, creating an affordability cliff for middle-income Americans.
  • He also asks Congress to subsidize COBRA through the end of September.

Go deeper.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: New York Supreme Court grants stay for indoor mask mandate — Neil Young demands Spotify take down music over vaccine misinformation — Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

55 mins ago - World

U.S. and NATO answer Putin in writing while bracing for Ukraine invasion

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The U.S. and NATO provided Russia with written proposals on Wednesday to advance a "diplomatic path forward," even as they warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days.

Why it matters: This is a delicate diplomatic balancing act. The U.S. and NATO want to show they're serious about diplomacy but unwilling to compromise on "core principles" — all without providing Vladimir Putin with an additional pretext for escalation.