WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden on Thursday stepped up actions to combat the spread of Covid-19’s surging Delta variant, asking every US federal worker to either declare they are fully vaccinated or wear masks and be tested.
“We have the tools to prevent this new wave of Covid from shutting down our businesses, our schools, our society as we saw happen last year,” the veteran Democrat said in a speech on his administration’s new initiatives.
The White House said ahead of the address that all four million federal employees and on-site contractors “will be asked to attest to their vaccination status”.
Those who do not declare they are fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job regardless of location, physically distance from co-workers, and be tested either once or twice a week.
The moves stop short of a vaccination mandate for federal workers – something that was being considered as the administration was mulling ways to protect federal workers and set an example for the private sector.
But they mark a dramatic return to controversial restrictions that Biden had predicted would be relics of the past in June, when he proclaimed America would be able to enjoy a “summer of freedom” including more socialising and in-person celebrations.
Today, with hospitalisations and infections up nationwide, Americans need to remain vigilant, Biden said.
“We are not fully out of the woods, because what is happening in America right now is a pandemic, a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said, in words sure to antagonise some who have declined to take the shots.
“If in fact you are unvaccinated, you present a problem – to yourself, to your family, and to those with whom you work.”
Nevertheless, the president urged citizens not to politicise the issues of vaccinations or masks.
“This is not about red states and blue states. It’s literally about life and death.”
With vaccination misinformation rampant, Biden said it was time for some “straight talk” to cut through the bogus fearmongering “with facts, with science, with the truth”.
He virtually implored people to get the vaccine, as he described the pandemic as a heartbreaking “American tragedy”.
Biden said he is directing the Pentagon to study adding Covid vaccinations to its list of required immunisations for members of the US military.
He also called on state and local governments to offer USD100 as an incentive for holdouts to get vaccinated – a nod to what the White House described as successful cash-for-jab efforts already implemented in some states.