US President Joe Biden on Thursday said that federal employees must either get vaccinated against Covid-19 or submit to regular testing amid a nationwide surge of new cases.
“It’s time to impose requirements on key groups,” Biden said at the White House.
“Every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask no matter where they work, and test one or two times a week, socially distance and generally will not be allowed to travel for work,” he said.
The federal government is the biggest employer in the US. There are about 2.1 million civilian federal workers who will be impacted by the mandate, Reuters reports.
The roughly 1.4 million active-duty military members may soon also be forced to get shots.
“Since many vaccinations are required for active-duty military today, I’m asking the Defense Department to look into how and when they will add Covid-19 to the list of vaccinations our armed forces must get,” Biden said.
A surge in infections linked to the more contagious Delta variant this week triggered new indoor mask mandates at the urging of the CDC in areas with higher rates of coronavirus transmission.
“If people are vaccinated, the transmission rate drops to the floor. And that’s all we’re trying to do,” Biden said.
According to CDC data, nearly 70% of US adults have had at least one vaccine shot and 60% percent are fully vaccinated. But some regions of the country have significantly lower rates of vaccination, fueling local outbreaks.
The president is using a carrot and stick approach.
He used the stick on federal employees, and he has also offered a new carrot by urging states and cities to offer US$100 (RM424) gifts for new vaccine-takers, using money from his US$1.9 trillion relief bill that passed in March.
Younger and lower-income people are less likely to be vaccinated, as are African-Americans.
Biden said that it’s understandable for people to be “angry” about unvaccinated people.
“With freedom comes responsibility. The decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else. Unvaccinated people spread the virus, they get sick and fill up hospitals,” he said. “That means if someone else has a heart attack or breaks a hip, there may not be a hospital bed for them.
“Last month, a study showed that over 99% of Covid-19 deaths were among the unvaccinated. This is an American tragedy.”