Democrats Disavow Lockdowns They Embraced Under Trump as COVID Riots Rock Europe

President Joe Biden has said that a lockdown is not needed in response to the new COVID-19 Omicron variant as protesters have taken to the streets of Europe to oppose new pandemic restrictions.

The president said on Monday that the his administration would put forward a plan to deal with the new variant "Not with shutdowns or lockdowns" but "with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

The decision comes following protests across Europe against the imposition of new COVID-19 measures with tens of thousands of people marching in the Belgian capital of Brussels alone.

"The best protection against this variant or any of the variants out there is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot," Biden said.

He appeared to rule out the possibility of a lockdown

"If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there's no need for a lockdown," Biden said.

The president's remarks contrast with comments he made about potential lockdowns on the campaign trail during the 2020 presidential election.

At that time, Biden said he would do "whatever it takes" to tackle the spread of the virus and would impose lockdown if it became necessary.

"I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists," Biden told ABC in a joint interview with his running mate, then Senator Kamala Harris, on November 21, 2020.

Biden later said that those remarks were referring to the fact that he would follow advice, saying: "There's going to be no need, in my view, to be able to shut down the whole economy."

After winning the election the Biden team appeared to leave the option of lockdown open, with one Biden COVID adviser, Dr. Michael Osterholm, suggesting a national lockdown of four to six weeks could help to deal with the virus.

However, Osterholm said he had not made that recommendation to Biden and the then president-elect's transition team issued a statement saying such a shutdown "is not in line with the president-elect's thinking."

Vice President Harris urged vaccinations but did not mention lockdown in tweets about the Omicron variant on Monday, writing, in part: "We know what we need to do to control Omicron: get people vaccinated, get them boosted, and get our children vaccinated. We can do this."

During the campaign, then President Donald Trump sought to make a potential lockdown under a Biden an election issue. Trump warned at a rally in Iowa on November 2 — just days before the election — that Biden would impose a strict lockdown on the U.S.

"The Biden plan will turn America into a prison state locking you down, while letting the far-left rioters roam free to loot and burn," Trump said.

The former president had made similar remarks at an earlier rally in Pennsylvania, saying there would be "no school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgivings, no Christmas, no Easters, no Fourth of Julys."

The first COVID-19 lockdowns came in 2020 while Trump was president. He declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020 and on March 17, he asked that "everyone to work at home, if possible, postpone unnecessary travel, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people."

State governments subsequently imposed their own COVID-19 restrictions with measures differing from state to state, in many cases with notably different approaches from Democratic and Republican governors.

Trump later praised protesters who demonstrated against lockdowns across the country. The so-called "Liberate" protests were also criticized, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi saying that one solution to the pandemic was to shelter in place.

"That is really the answer," Pelosi told Fox News in April, 2020. "Testing. Tracing. Treatment. Shelter in place... But, you know, people will do what they do."

"The fact is, we're all impatient. We all want out. But what they're doing is really unfortunate," she said.

Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, has not called for a lockdown in response to the Omicron variant.

The 2020 U.S. protests against COVID-19 restrictions appeared to find a counterpart in recent demonstrations across Europe where thousands turned out to protest renewed pandemic restrictions.

Protests took place in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands, among others, and in Brussels and The Hague fireworks were thrown at police.

The Biden administration's decision not to impose lockdowns at this time comes after those protests and amid ongoing disputes with Republican-led states like Texas and Florida, which have opposed further COVID-19 restrictions.

Florida recently passed a law saying that private-sector employees can opt out of a vaccination mandate if they show medical or religious reasons, or if they can show immunity to COVID-19, earning a rebuke from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Texas has similarly banned vaccine mandates and is suing the Biden administration for the mandate it has imposed. Both Texas and Florida, along with other GOP states, would be likely to oppose renewed lockdown measures.

Biden's reference to vaccinations in remarks on Monday may also be an indication of why he has ruled out lockdown. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 74.5 percent of people over the age of five have at least one dose of the vaccine, while 63 percent are fully vaccinated.

Biden Delivers Remarks on the Omicron Variant
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden has said there will not be a lockdown in response to the Omicron variant. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images