As Europe faced a new virus wave, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Scotland imposed new restrictions on the movement and activities of their citizens.
Omicron erupted at a precarious moment for the president, who ran on a promise to curb the pandemic, only to be confronted with a shape-shifting virus that is now claiming more than 1,000 American lives every day. It is also a divisive political climate in which many Americans, particularly supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, have refused to get vaccinated.
In his remarks, Mr. Biden acknowledged the former president, noting that Mr. Trump recently said he had received a booster shot, and that “thanks to the prior administration and the scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine.”
But he also denounced the “dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media,” and companies and personalities who were “making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters.”
The president’s moves build on a winter pandemic strategy that he announced three weeks ago, and reflect an awareness inside the White House of the growing threat from the Omicron variant. But Mr. Biden grew defensive in the face of questions about whether he had not moved quickly enough, especially in ensuring that free tests were widely available.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated this was going to spread as rapidly,” Mr. Biden said, rejecting the characterization of his testing response as a failure. He said that over the last few days, “all of a sudden it was like everybody rushed to the counter.”
“It was a big, big rush,” he said.
Just two weeks ago, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, mocked the idea of sending a test to every American.