Biden says 'more people may die' if Trump blocks pandemic cooperation

ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP

President-elect Joe Biden said on Monday "more people may die" if outgoing President Donald Trump continues blocking a US transition of power as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Biden said business and labour leaders had signalled willingness to work together to bolster the pandemic-battered US economy but stressed COVID-19 first must be brought under control.

The Democratic president-elect delivered a speech and took questions from reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, after consulting jointly with the CEOs of top U.S. companies and labour leaders on Monday. He welcomed further progress in COVID-19 vaccine development.

Biden will inherit an economy that has suffered millions of job losses during a pandemic that has killed more than 246,000 people in the United States. US COVID-19 cases are surging as Biden prepares to take office on Jan. 20.

"We're going into a very dark winter. Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier," Biden said of the pandemic.

Biden again called upon the Trump administration to cooperate with his transition team on containing the surge in cases. "More people may die if we don't coordinate," he said.

He urged Congress to pass pandemic relief legislation. Talks on such legislation stalled for months before the November 3 election.

Biden insisted, however, that Trump's refusal to concede was not inhibiting his transition efforts. "I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started," he said.

On other economic matters, Biden said he plans to pursue "a fairer tax structure" with corporations paying their fair share and added that he wanted to see a $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide. Biden said no government contracts will be given to companies that do not make products in the United States.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris earlier held a midday video conference with several chief executives including General Motors Co's Mary Barra, Microsoft Corp's Satya Nadella, Target Corp's Brian Cornell and Gap Inc's Sonia Syngal.

In statements, the companies referred to Biden as the "president-elect," and GM said it was looking forward to "working with the new administration," - tacit rejections of Trump's challenge to the election results.

Also taking part were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the heads of the Service Employees International Union, the United Auto Workers and two other large unions.

Biden said Moderna Inc's announcement that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5 per cent effective based on interim data from a late-stage trial provided fresh hope for beating the coronavirus. Coupled with positive results last week on a rival Pfizer Inc shot, Moderna's news added to optimism that widespread vaccination in the coming months could help tame the pandemic.

Asked whether he personally would be willing to get vaccinated with one of the newly developed shots, Biden told reporters, "I wouldn't hesitate to get the vaccine."

"They appear to be ready for prime time, ready to be used," Biden said of the two vaccine candidates.

Biden urged Americans to limit the number of people at gatherings for next week's Thanksgiving holiday, with social distancing and masks encouraged.

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