Covid updates: South Africa to start lifting restrictions

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday for the second time in five months, a day before she joined President Biden on a diplomatic trip to Europe.

Ms Psaki took a test for the virus on Tuesday morning and it came back positive, she said in a statement, adding that she would not be joining Mr Biden and senior officials at an EU summit. NATO where the president will urge his allies to use more economical sanctions to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Ms Psaki said she had two meetings with Mr Biden on Monday that were socially distant, and that she and the president were not considered to have been in close contact based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC defines close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period.

Mr. Biden tested negative for the virus on Tuesday, Ms. Psaki said in her statement.

“Thanks to the vaccine, I only had mild symptoms,” she said. “As per White House Covid-19 protocols, I will be working from home and plan to return to work in person at the end of a five-day isolation period and testing negative.”

Ms Psaki’s positive case comes as the White House grapples with the toll of a lingering two-year pandemic while resuming the usual routine of the presidency, including overseas travel.

The administration has faced a series of positive cases in recent days. Last week, Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, tested positive. Ms Harris stood alongside Mr Biden during a bill signing on the same day. The vice president tested negative on Sunday, a spokeswoman for her, Sabrina Singh, said Tuesday.

Mr Biden also had to cancel face-to-face meetings with Prime Minister Micheal Martin of Ireland last week after the Prime Minister received a positive result. The president was with Mr. Martin at a gala the day before but was not in close contact with him, according to White House officials.

Congress has also seen a flurry of recent cases. Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said tuesday that he had tested positive.

Hillary Clinton also announced a positive test result on Tuesday, write on twitter that she had “a few mild cold symptoms” but was “feeling fine”. She said former President Bill Clinton had tested negative but was in quarantine.

“Movie recommendations appreciated!” she wrote.

While virus cases in the United States are declining, a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 is spreading rapidly in parts of China and Europe. The spike in cases in Europe was caused in part by government officials easing precautions too quickly, a senior World Health Organization official in the region, Dr Hans Kluge, said on Tuesday.

Still, White House officials have said they are focused on returning the United States to a place of pre-pandemic normalcy, and the White House has not reimposed mask-wearing mandates or capacity restrictions intended to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The CDC released guidelines last month suggesting most Americans could stop wearing masks, and even before that, governors across the country had acted on their own to roll back pandemic restrictions.

The announcement of Ms Psaki’s positive test came minutes after she was due to give the daily press briefing with Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser. She and Mr. Sullivan were not considered to have been in close contact on Tuesday, White House officials said.

Ms. Psaki did not meet with Mr. Biden on Tuesday, officials said.

Chris Meagher, deputy White House press secretary, stood in for Ms Psaki at the briefing. He said no member of the media was believed to have been in close contact with Ms Psaki during Monday’s daily press conference.

The White House said Karine Jean-Pierre, the chief deputy press secretary, would travel to Europe with Mr Biden.

Ms Psaki’s last positive test, in October, also came as the White House prepared for an international trip. She ditched a trip to Europe after learning that family members had contracted the virus. His own positive test came a few days later.

Emily Cochrane contributed report.

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