New York will require all private sector workers in the city to be vaccinated against Covid-19, in what would be the strictest vaccine mandate to be imposed anywhere in the US.
Bill de Blasio said on Monday the new rule would go into force on December 27 and would apply to all private companies regardless of size. He did not say whether some employees would be allowed to carry out regular tests instead, as is being proposed by the Biden administration as part of a separate nationwide plan.
De Blasio said the mandate was being imposed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant that has threatened to exacerbate infection rates in the city, which have almost doubled in the past month.
The mayor told the MSNBC news channel: “We in New York City have decided to use a pre-emptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of Covid and the dangers it’s causing to all of us.”
He added: “Omicron is here, and it looks like it’s very transmissible. The timing is horrible with the winter months.”
Business groups could appeal the New York ruling in the courts, but De Blasio said he was confident it would survive such a challenge.
The heavily mutated Omicron variant has been confirmed in at least 17 US states, and health officials expect it to spread rapidly. Scientists across the world are rushing to work out whether it is more transmissible, more deadly or better able to evade vaccine protection than previous strains.
Joe Biden, the US president, announced in September his administration would impose a mandate on all private companies with 100 employees or more to make sure staff are either vaccinated or test negative for the disease every week. The administration is imposing separate mandates on federal employees and contractors, as well as healthcare groups that carry out work under the publicly run Medicare and Medicaid insurance schemes.
Those mandates were due to come into force on January 4, but judges have imposed temporary blocks on the rules applying to both private sector employers and healthcare providers.
While the federal government fights its case through the courts, states and cities are imposing their own rules instead. Many states have imposed vaccine mandates on healthcare workers and teachers, while Puerto Rico has said there will be a vaccine or test requirement for all private employers with 50 staff or more.
De Blasio also announced anyone over 12 using indoor dining, entertainment or gyms would also have to be double vaccinated. Children aged five to 11 will be allowed to enter with only one vaccination.
“We are confident because it’s universal”, said De Blasio, who is due to leave office in a few weeks.