US President Joe Biden and his supporters have taken to calling the current virus surge a "pandemic of the unvaccinated." (Image: AP)
Blaming unvaccinated Americans for preventing the US from overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, President Joe Biden has imposed stringent new rules, including taking a few punitive measures, to vaccinate millions of workers as the country witnessed a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases.
The Biden administration has been successful in vaccinating a significantly large population of the country, but the fact that about 25 percent of eligible Americans -- about 80 million people -- who remain unvaccinated pose a threat to the gains made by him in the fight against COVID-19.
The US, the worst-hit nation by the pandemic, is reporting an average of 151,500 new cases per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, hovering around levels seen in late January. An average of 1,500 people are dying from COVID-19 every day in the US, Johns Hopkins data shows.
“We can and we will turn the tide of COVID-19,” Biden said in an address to the nation from the White House on Thursday.
“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.”
The president had promised a "summer of freedom" from the virus, but the Delta variant has seen infections surge.
Biden laid out a six-part plan intended to get more people vaccinated, allow schools to reopen safely, increase testing, improve care for patients and boost economic recovery.
As part of the plan, the president announced a new requirement for federal employees to get a Covid vaccine, with no option for regular testing. He also signed an executive order extending the requirement to contractors that work with the US government, impacting a total of 2.1 million employees.
At the centre of Biden's new plan is directing the Labour Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they don't comply.
The order will affect about 80 million workers.
"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We have made vaccinations free, safe and convenient.
"The vaccine is FDA approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us," Biden said.
"So please, do the right thing,” he said.
Other rules that Biden directed include a doubling of fines for passengers on planes who refuse to wear a mask, invoking the Defence Production Act to accelerate the creation of rapid at-home testing kits, deploying healthcare workers to areas experiencing surges in cases and increasing the weekly pace of shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatment to hospitals
“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Nearly three-quarters of the eligible have gotten at least one shot, but one quarter has not gotten any. That's nearly 80 million Americans not vaccinated and in a country as large as ours, that's a 25 percent minority. That 25 percent can cause a lot of damage, and they are,” he said.
“It protects our economy and will make our kids safer in schools,” he said.
He also asked nearly 3,00,000 educators in the federal head start programmes to get vaccinated and called on all governors to require vaccination for all teachers and staff.
Biden said his other plan is increasing testing and masking.
“From the start, America has failed to do enough COVID-19 testing. In order to better detect and control the delta variant, I'm taking steps tonight to make testing more available, more affordable, and more convenient. I use the Defence Production Act to increase production of rapid tests, including those that you can use at home,” he said.
“In addition to testing, we know masking helps stop the spread of COVID-19. That's why when I came into office, I required masks for all federal buildings and on federal lands, on airlines, and other modes of transportation,” he said, adding that the Transportation Safety Administration will double the fines on travellers that refuse to mask.
Reiterating that COVID-19 transcends borders, he said they need to continue fighting the virus overseas, and continue to be the arsenal of vaccines.
“We're proud to have donated nearly 140 million vaccines over 90 countries, more than all other countries combined, including Europe, China, and Russia combined,” he said.
“That's American leadership on a global stage. And that's just the beginning. We've also now started to ship another 500 million COVID vaccines, Pfizer vaccines, purchased to donate to 100 lower-income countries in need of vaccines. And I'll be announcing additional steps to help the rest of the world later this month,” Biden said.