Biden Toughens Pandemic Approach With New Vaccine Mandate

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here .

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden introduces workplace vaccine mandate , a rare phone call between China’s Xi Jinping and Biden , and Russia and Belarus deepen economic ties.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden introduces workplace vaccine mandate, a rare phone call between China’s Xi Jinping and Biden, and Russia and Belarus deepen economic ties.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Biden Introduces Workplace Vaccine Mandate

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping COVID-19 vaccine rules for U.S. workplaces in an effort to kickstart lagging vaccination rates as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to infect and kill thousands across the country.

The new regulations call for workplaces with over 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly tests—or face steep fines. The same applies to federal employees, government contractors, and those who work in facilities accepting federal health insurance. In all, the new rules cover 100 million workers.

Adopting an exasperated tone while announcing the decision on Thursday, Biden chastised the 30 percent of American adults who have yet to get a vaccination, including those who refuse to ever do so. “What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient,” Biden said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”

Polling on vaccine hesitancy suggests Republicans as one of the groups most unwilling to get vaccinated, a position supported by some vocal members of the party but opposed by more senior members like Sen. Mitch McConnell.

In his speech, Biden decried the “pandemic politics” that “are making people sick, causing unvaccinated people to die.” Those deaths, mostly occurring in the southern United States, have now reached a daily average twice as high as at the same time last year, a time before vaccines were available.

Popular support. Despite the partisan divide, a vaccine mandate is mostly popular among Americans. An Aug. 26 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, made before the Pfizer vaccine was given full regulatory approval, found that 50 percent of working Americans approve of workplace vaccine mandates. That number increases when respondents are asked about specific sectors: 62 percent of U.S. workers say hospital and other health workers should be vaccinated, and 58 percent say workers who regularly interact with the public should be vaccinated.

Europe’s experience. If experiences of vaccine mandates in Europe are any indication, Biden should expect both an increase in vaccinations coupled with a small but fierce opposition. Over the summer, France saw thousands take to the streets to protest regulations mandating vaccination to enjoy restaurants and other public places, while thousands also protested in Berlin recently with similar grievances. Nevertheless, vaccination rates in those countries have continued to tick up, increasing by 10 percentage points in France since the restrictions were put in place.

First World problems. It’s worth noting that this problem is largely a luxury for now, as vaccination rates worldwide continue to plod along amid scarce supplies; 80 percent of the world’s vaccine supplies have been given out in either high- or upper-middle-income nations so far, with low-income countries only receiving 0.4 percent of doses.

What We’re Following Today

EU’s Borrell in Tunis. European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell continues his first visit to Tunisia today as he meets with President Kais Saied, almost seven weeks after the Tunisian leader suspended parliament and established rule by decree. Saied has maintained his move was constitutional, while his detractors in parliament and elsewhere have called it a coup. Borrell’s visit comes a day after Reuters reported Saied’s future plans for the country, which include suspending the constitution and changing the political system to give a stronger role to the presidency.

Xi and Biden’s phone call. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke over the phone late Thursday, only their second phone call since Biden took office. According to a White House readout, the call was part of an ongoing U.S. effort “to responsibly manage the competition” between the two countries so it does not “veer into conflict.” The 120-word White House statement was light on specifics, but China’s version released by its Washington embassy made three mentions of climate change and said Xi blamed Washington for contentious relations.

The two men have a chance to meet in person next month as Italy hosts the G-20 leaders summit in Rome beginning on Oct. 30.

Keep an Eye On

Moscow-Minsk ties. Belarus and Russia agreed to deeper economic integration on Thursday as Russian President Vladimir Putin threw Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko a lifeline of discounted natural gas and fresh loans to prop up the country’s sanctions-bitten economy. Plans for closer political union were put on hold for the time being. “We must first create an economic base, an economic foundation, in order to move forward, including on the political track,” Putin said following the meeting. Lukashenko said greater political integration is possible if “our people want it.”

9/11 commemorations. On Saturday, the United States commemorates the 20th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In Foreign Policy, Michael Hirsh reflected on the policy lessons to be learned from the two decades of missteps following the attacks, while seven experts weighed in on the ways 9/11 changed the United States and its stature around the world.

U.N. issues Afghan warning. Almost the entire Afghan population faces a descent into poverty by mid-2022, a report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has warned, as the COVID-19 pandemic, drought, and the political upheaval of the Taliban takeover all take a toll. Afghanistan’s poverty rate, already at 72 percent, is expected to increase to 97 percent ”unless a response to the country’s political and economic crises is urgently launched,” the UNDP said.

FP Live

Later this month, the world’s diplomats will gather in New York for the 76th U.N. General Assembly. Join FP reporters Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch for an FP Live call on Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. ET to find out what to watch for at the biggest diplomatic event of the year. Register here.

Odds and Ends

History repeated itself on the Suez Canal on Thursday, as the cargo ship Coral Crystal became wedged in the channel, briefly stranding 43,000 tons of cargo and stopping traffic along the waterway. The Coral Crystal avoided the fate of the infamous Ever Given, however, as authorities were able to redirect ships around the vessel, because it had gotten stuck on a two-lane stretch. The boat was soon aided by tugboats and sent on its way toward the Red Sea. Suez Canal chief Ossama Rabei said the incident was only a “very brief grounding,” and was handled in a “professional manner.”