New York mayor Bill de Blasio has issued a new vaccine mandate for all childcare and early intervention programs in the city.
The mandate is expected to affect about 102,000 workers, who will have until 20 December to get the shot.
“Today we’re announcing an additional vaccine mandate related to childcare programs,” the mayor said. “We know these employee mandates work, and they help protect kids.”
As he unveiled the measure, Mr de Blasio also announced a “mask advisory” for all New Yorkers in indoor public places, but emphasized that vaccinations were the more important weapon against the pandemic.
“What we are saying clear as a bell today is, what has worked up to now continues to be the key: vaccination, and obviously masks play a very important role as well,” the mayor said.
The two measures come as scientists warn of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, about which little is known but which has already spread rapidly to other parts of the world. At a press conference on Monday, Mr de Blasio emphasised that the variant has not yet arrived in New York City – although it is expected.
“There are no omicron cases here in New York City at this moment. It is very likely there will be, but there are no cases at this moment,” the mayor said. “But nonetheless, we are preparing to take action.”
The city’s health commissioner, Dr Dave Chokshi, said the new advisory does not change the previous guidance on masks, but “strengthens” it.
“Today, as the mayor mentioned, I am also issuing a commissioner’s advisory strongly recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask at all times when indoors and in a public setting, like at your grocery, or in building lobbies, offices, and retail stores,” Dr Chokshi said.
The commissioner added that this advisory applies to everyone, whether vaccinated or not.
Mayor de Blasio, when asked why he chose to issue a mask “advisory” instead of a mandate, said this was to avoid taking any attention away from Covid vaccines.
“We want to keep the focus on vaccination,” he said. “This is the much more important part of the equation.”
According to city government data, 88.5 per cent of adults in New York City have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. That number is much lower for children, with only 44.8 per cent of New Yorkers aged 5 to 17 having gotten at least one shot.
“The one thing we know – and I say this particularly to parents right now – getting your child vaccinated makes so much sense,” the mayor said. “Even before we heard about omicron, it made sense. It especially makes sense now.”
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