By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, Dec 6 (EFE).- New York City, the US financial capital, will require that all workers in the private sector be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of December, the first measure of this type taken anywhere in the country, the move coming after the first cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus were detected in the US.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement at a press conference at which he said that getting vaccinated will be obligatory for employees of private firms in the Big Apple starting on Dec. 27, and it will affect some 184,000 businesses.
Saying that health and municipal authorities have the “tools” but need to use them aggressively, De Blasio said in his televised announcement that the move amounts to a “preventive attack” on the virus.
“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” De Blasio said in his statement.
“No place in the nation has done more to end the COVID era. And, if you have not taken this step yet, there’s no better day than today to stand up for your city,” he added.
De Blasio said that although only a few cases of the new variant have been detected so far in the US it will continue to spread, adding that the Omicron strain also seems to be very transmissible.
The mayor said, though, that city authorities will not allow the reimposition of movement restrictions or lockdowns.
According to the new municipal order, starting on Dec. 14 it will also be obligatory for all children over age 5 to be vaccinated and they will have to provide proof of vaccination at extracurricular school activities considered to be “high risk,” including sports activities, musical and dance practice and performances.
As of Dec. 27, in addition, all people over age 12 will have to have been fully inoculated to be able to enter restaurants, gymnasiums and entertainment establishments. So far, people have been able to enter such places after receiving only one dose of the two-dose vaccines.
The mayor also said that on Dec. 15 he will provide more information about the implementation of these measures, including information on enforcement and penalties.
De Blasio’s announcement comes just four days after President Joe Biden presented a new strategy to minimize the impact of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa but which has now shown up in the US and assorted other nations.
Among the measures will be obligating all travelers arriving in the US to undergo a negative coronavirus test within 24 hours of their flight to this country, instead of the 72-hour window that had been required up to now.
Biden had said US authorities were going to fight the Omicron variant with science and speed and not chaos and confusion.
Despite its stance against the Omicron variant, the Biden administration suffered a legal setback on Nov. 13, when an appeals court upheld the decision to block an executive order requiring companies with 100 or more employees to guarantee that their workers were vaccinated against Covid-19.
When asked about that matter, De Blasio’s press adviser, Georgia Pestana, said that the New York health commissioner has the authority to issue a mandate like this one to protect public health and he ruled out the possibility of the move being blocked by the courts.
Meanwhile, De Blasio emphasized that several factors that multiply the risk are coinciding: the transmissibility of the new variant, the cold weather and the gatherings characteristic of the holiday season.
It is the “legal right of the health commissioner to keep the people of this city safe. That is something that’s been proven time and time again,” De Blasio said, adding that “When the health commissioner believes there is a pressing public health threat, he has the ability to act in that situation.”
The vaccine requirement comes after public sector workers, ranging from garbage collectors to police officers, were obligated to get vaccinated, a measure that was strongly resisted by several unions that considered the move illegal.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached whereby people claiming religious or medical objections to getting the vaccine, and those people who simply refused to get vaccinated, would be offered the option to take a one-year leave of absence without pay but retaining their company-provided healthcare benefits.