As the US experiences another surge in COVID-19 cases, President Joe Biden has announced that his administration will require all private businesses with over 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing, saying “this is not about freedom”.
The new measure also applies to nearly 17 million healthcare workers at facilities receiving federal benefits.
In a separate order, all Federal Government employees, numbering some 2.5 million, will be mandated to take the jab or possibly get fired. A previous order allowed them to undergo regular testing if they did not wish to be vaccinated.
During his speech on Thursday, Mr Biden said he had directed the US Department of Labor to set the plan into motion, as hospitals in several states reached capacity in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Although over 650,000 Americans have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, around 80 million people in the country remain unvaccinated, with suspicion of authorities remaining high, partly spurred on by skeptics within the Republican Party.
“This is not about freedom, or personal choice, it’s about protecting yourself and those around you,” the president said as he unveiled his plan.
He said he had directed the US Department of Labor to require all private businesses with 100 or more staff to mandate the jab or request proof of a negative coronavirus test from employees at least once a week.
The president’s plan uses the full force of his executive power to mandate the jab for unvaccinated Americans.
Some of Mr Biden’s initiatives address common concerns of Americans who have yet to get the vaccine – such as not wanting to miss work to get the jab or recover from side effects.
The president said that requirements that large businesses provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated will be unveiled in the coming weeks by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha), adding that businesses that do not comply with the new rules may face thousands of dollars in fines per violation.
Other rules that Mr Biden directed include:
• A doubling of fines for passengers on planes who refuse to wear a mask
• Invoking the Defense Production Act to accelerate the creation of rapid at-home testing kits
• Deploying healthcare workers to areas experiencing surges in cases
• Increasing the weekly pace of shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatment to hospitals
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