US President Joe Biden has urged local governments to pay people to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and set new rules requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.

The measures are Mr Biden's latest attempt to spur reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges nationwide, infecting unvaccinated people in particular.

The United States lags behind other developed countries in vaccination rates, despite having plenty of free vaccines on hand.

White House efforts to urge the hesitant to get vaccinated have hit a wall of anti-vaccine sentiment, misinformation and political division.

Mr Biden's decision to require millions of federal workers and contractors to show proof of vaccination is a departure from a previous opposition to so-called vaccine passports. It shows the White House taking a tougher stance towards circumstances within Mr Biden's control as the virus spreads.

"Right now too many people are dying or watching someone they love [dying]," Mr Biden told reporters at the White House.

"With freedom comes responsibility. So please exercise responsible judgement. Get vaccinated for yourself, the people you love, for your country."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 163.8 million people in the US are fully vaccinated out of a population of some 330 million.

Read more:
Latest Covid-19 stories

The federal government is the largest employer in the United States and Mr Biden's move could serve as an example for private businesses and other institutions to follow as they assess getting workers back into offices and work places.

Government employees who do not show they have been vaccinated will be subject to weekly or twice-weekly Covid-19 tests and restrictions on official travel.

The US has about 2.18 million civilian employees and 570,000 other US Postal Service (USPS) workers, according to 2020 data. The US government employed 3.7 million contract employees as of 2017, a New York University study found. Postal workers are not affected by the new rules.

Mr Biden also directed the defence department to look into "how and when" it will require members of the military to take the vaccine.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, while traveling in Southeast Asia, said he would consult with his medical advisers and other senior military leaders and come up with a plan for the way ahead.

Mr Austin did not give a timeline on how long it would take to look into the issue but he said the military would move as fast as possible.

Meanwhile state, local and US territorial governments will be able to dip into $350 billion in coronavirus aid to provide $100 payments for every newly vaccinated American to boost Covid-19 inoculation rates, the US Treasury Department said.

"I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have gotten vaccinated already. But here's the deal: if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them," Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden's pandemic strategy is coming under scrutiny as the Delta variant spreads and many Americans resist taking the vaccine.

Another issue is how the surge in infections affects efforts to get children back into schools in the autumn.

"We can and we must open schools this fall, full time," Mr Biden said. "We can't afford another year out of the classroom."

Mr Biden pressed school districts to hold at least one "pop-up vaccination clinic" in the coming weeks to get children aged 12 and older vaccinated.

The White House also said small- and medium-sized businesses will be reimbursed for offering their workers paid time off to get children and other family members vaccinated.