Biden to require US federal workers to take vaccine or frequent tests

Move would mean one of nation's largest employers will mandate Covid-19 vaccinations

President Joe Biden walks out of the Oval Office to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. AP
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US President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday that the country's 2.1 million federal workers will be required to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or else submit to frequent coronavirus testing and other mitigation steps, multiple US media outlets reported.

The vaccine mandate will not be finalised until Thursday, Bloomberg and CNN said, while cautioning that final specifics were still being worked out.

The plan comes amid a spike in cases experts are blaming on people who have shunned the vaccine, allowing the highly contagious Delta variant to spread across the country.

Mr Biden said on Tuesday he was weighing a vaccine requirement for federal workers and that he will deliver a speech on the US fight against the pandemic on Thursday.

Federal workers who do not confirm they have been vaccinated may be required to wear masks, even in communities without substantial virus spread, in addition to undergoing regular tests, Bloomberg reported.

The Biden administration is laying out a series of steps to beat back the virus surge, which poses not only a major public health challenge but a serious political threat to the president. Mr Biden had counted on plummeting case rates to anchor the economic recovery and his policy agenda.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention tightened its mask guidance on Tuesday, advising Americans to wear masks in public indoor places located in areas with substantial spread, regardless of vaccination status. That led the White House to force staff and reporters to begin covering their faces again while inside the complex, after the District of Columbia’s case rate spiked.

The vaccine mandate for federal workers also follows a Monday announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs that it will require all its front-line healthcare workers to be vaccinated.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, an AFL-CIO affiliate that represents roughly 30,000 federal workers, said it “fully supports” a vaccination requirement for the federal workforce.

“This is not an easy decision President Biden made, but it’s the right one for our members and for the nation,” the union said in a statement. Other labour groups representing federal employees have not yet weighed in.

The US recorded more than 71,000 new cases on Tuesday, driving the rolling seven-day average up to 59,700, the Bloomberg Covid-19 Tracker showed. The average case rate is more than four times higher than it was three weeks ago, before the Delta variant became the dominant US strain.

NBC also reported that Mr Biden would issue a vaccine mandate for federal workers.

Updated: July 28, 2021, 8:44 PM