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US states are moving to lift mask requirements and other restrictions as new coronavirus cases drop sharply, even as the Biden administration grapples with a slowdown in vaccination rates and runaway infections in other parts of the world.
In his joint address to Congress on Wednesday night Joe Biden basked in the glow of having beaten his own promises on Covid-19. He said that 220m Covid shots had been given in his first 100 days, while death rates among seniors from the disease were down 80% on January levels.
His speech matched official statistics that show a steep decline in new cases that are now hovering at just above 50,000 a day, 26% fewer than two weeks ago. About 27 states have seen a decline of more than 15% in their daily case numbers over the past 14 days, the New York Times has calculated.
With the graph moving in the right direction, both federal and state governments have begun to ease restrictions. On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidelines on masks, saying that fully vaccinated Americans could go outdoors with their faces uncovered.
Individual states are following suit by lifting their own mask mandates. In Massachusetts, the outdoor mask restriction will be relaxed on Friday, sports stadiums will be allowed to return to quarter crowd capacity on 10 May and all restrictions on businesses will be lifted on 1 August.
But two dark clouds hang over this generally sunny picture. The rate of vaccination is slowing down as those most eager to protect themselves from the disease complete the process, while more hesitant individuals and populations are yet to come.
Thirty per cent of Americans are now fully vaccinated, and 44% have received one dose. And daily vaccination numbers have fallen from about 3.4m two weeks ago to 2.7m this week. Public health officials are hoping that last week’s decision to resume Johnson & Johnson vaccinations after a pause over concern about very rare blood clots will help make inroads in parts of the country that are less enthusiastic about immunization.
The other dark cloud is the growing awareness of the stark inequalities of vaccination around the world, and the uncontrolled spread of the virus among low-income nations. The head of the World Health Organization said on Thursday that more than 1bn vaccine doses have been given globally but 82% of them have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
By contrast, poorer nations have benefited from just 0.3% of the shots. On Wednesday the US state department approved the voluntary departure from India of diplomats and their family members and advised all other Americans to leave “as soon as it is safe to do so”.
The country is being ravaged by a Covid outbreak that officially is seeing 375,000 new cases and 3,600 deaths a day – though the real numbers could be much higher. “It’s like we are in the middle of the apocalypse,” a resident of New Delhi told the Guardian.
As public health experts have recognized, surging virus cases in countries like India and Brazil not only threaten their own populations, but the success of other countries attempting to finally emerge from the pandemic.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid: US states moving to lift mask requirements as vaccination rates slow | US news