Joe Biden, striving to restore public confidence in his handling of the pandemic, announced new vaccination mandates on Thursday for 100 million workers, about two-thirds of the American labour force.
Channeling national frustration as the virus surges back, the US president adopted his sternest tone yet in reprimanding the tens of millions of Americans who are still not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We can and we will turn the tide of Covid-19,” he said firmly. “It’ll take a lot of hard work and it’s going to take some time. Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free.”
Biden’s speech in the state dining room of the White House, against a backdrop of Abraham Lincoln’s portrait and with watching reporters crammed tightly, was seen as a high-profile attempt to claw back momentum and offer reassurance to Americans feeling despair about whether the pandemic will ever end.
The president unveiled a six-pronged strategy, relying on regulatory powers and other steps. He said the Department of Labor is developing an emergency temporary standard that will require all employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly.
This will affect more than 80 million workers in private sector businesses. Companies that do not comply could face fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation.
Biden said: “The bottom line: we’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers. We’re going to reduce the spread of Covid-19 by increasing the share of the workforce that is vaccinated in businesses all across America.”
The move provoked instant criticism from conservatives skeptical of government overreach. Kevin Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, said: “It is not the government’s role to dictate to private businesses what to do.”