White House says U.S. will not lock down to fight Covid as European nations implement restrictions

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Jeff Zients, White House Covid-19 coordinator, speaks during a news conference at the White House on April 13, 2021.
Leigh Vogel | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Biden administration has no plans to curb future Covid-19 surges using a nationwide lockdown, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing Monday.

Zients’ comments come as Austria enters its fourth nationwide lockdown and the Netherlands institute a partial lockdown amid a Covid surge rampaging across Europe in recent weeks. Instead of locking down the U.S., Zients said the federal government would rely on vaccines and therapeutic treatments to keep the country running in the event of another devastating Covid wave.

“We can curb the spread of the virus without having to in any way shut down our economy,” Zients said. “We have 82% of people now with one shot and more and more people getting vaccinated each week.”

Zients called for the continued use of vaccines, booster shots and monoclonal antibodies to prevent the U.S. from “going backwards in any way, shape or form.” More than 60 million eligible Americans still haven’t gotten vaccinated against Covid, and health officials are asking those who qualify for boosters to register for their extra doses with the holidays approaching.

Covid cases in the U.S. plateaued between 70,000 and 75,000 per day for almost three weeks starting in late October, but they’ve since reached a seven-day average of nearly 92,400 per day as of Sunday, an increase of 16% from the week prior, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. But overseas, Europe tallied more than 2.1 million new cases during the week ended Nov. 14, approximately 64% of all cases globally over that span, the World Health Organization reported in its most recent weekly epidemiological update.

Austria recorded a seven-day average of nearly 14,000 daily cases as of Sunday, up 28% from a week ago, according to data compiled by Hopkins. And the Netherlands is seeing an average of about 21,000 infections per day for the week ending Sunday, 56% higher than the week prior.

Austria’s lockdown began Monday and will last for at most 20 days, with a nationwide vaccine mandate taking effect Feb. 1, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said Friday. The Netherlands launched a partial lockdown on Saturday as well, forcing select businesses to shut early and preventing the public from attending sporting events for three weeks, Reuters reported.

Both Austria and the Netherlands have seen protests erupt in response to the return to lockdowns and more stringent Covid mitigation measures. Similar demonstrations arose across Belgium, Croatia and Italy in recent days as well.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called for tougher measures in Europe’s largest economy as Covid spikes there.

CNBC’s Chloe Taylor, Holly Ellyatt and Nate Rattner contributed to this reporting.

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