US President, Joe Biden, has announced sweeping new Covid-19 measures that require workers at large companies to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.
The measures also include a vaccine mandate for millions of federal government workers and come as cases in the country are surging.
Mr Biden announced his plan in a speech at the White House on Thursday.
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 new requirements cover about 100 million workers. Nearly 17 million healthcare workers at facilities receiving federal benefits will also face the same requirements, he said.
Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.
“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”
“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.
The president’s plan uses the full force of his executive power to mandate the jab for unvaccinated Americans.
Some of his 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).
Just two months ago Biden prematurely declared the nation’s “independence” from the virus. Now, despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the U.S. is seeing about 300% more new COVID-19 infections a day, about two-and-a-half times more hospitalizations, and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year.
“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said on Thursday.
But after months of using promotions to drive the vaccination rate, Biden is taking a much firmer hand, as he blames people who have not yet received shots for the sharp rise in cases killing more than 1,000 people per day and imperilling a fragile economic rebound.
In addition to the vaccination requirements, Biden moved to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face-covering requirements on federal property in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The plan triggered an immediate backlash among some Republicans, who argued that the government should not play a role in the health decisions of individuals.
South Carolina Governor, Henry McMaster, said: “Biden and the radical Democrats [have] thumbed their noses at the Constitution.”
National President of the American Federation of Government Employees, Everett Kelley, insisted that “changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate”.
On the other hand, there were strong words of praise for Biden’s efforts to get the nation vaccinated from the American Medical Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — though no direct mention of his mandate for private companies.
More than 650,000 Americans have died with Covid-19 since last year. Some 80 million people in the US remain unvaccinated.
Additional reporting from AP and BBC