More US states lift mask mandates

More US states were on track to lift their mask mandates and fully reopen economies despite warnings from officials and health experts to tread carefully amid the still raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Maryland became the latest state to largely restart its economy as Governor Larry Hogan announced that restaurants, retailers and other businesses would be allowed to reopen without capacity restrictions from Friday onwards, Xinhua news agency reported.

Texas, Mississippi, Connecticut, Arizona and Wyoming have also unveiled similar plans in recent days, as the country is ramping up Covid-19 vaccination, and new cases and deaths are dropping.

But some others states are easing restrictions gradually.

Governors of New Jersey and New York announced on Wednesday that restaurants will be allowed to reopen at half capacity, up from 35 per cent, from March 19.

Theme parks and stadiums in California will reopen as early as April 1 with capacity restrictions and other safety modifications, local authorities announced last week.

The states’ decisions to loosen restrictions and reopen economies have defied warnings from top public health officials and experts who have been calling for strict measures to maintain progress in curbing the pandemic and guard against increasing variants infections.

“There is so much that’s critical riding on the next two months,” said Rochelle Walensky, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“How quickly we will vaccinate versus whether we will have another surge really relies on what happens in March and April,” she said.

Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said: “The baseline level of coronavirus cases needs to fall further before the country can confidently resume normal activities, even as the vaccine rollout accelerates.”

He noted that in past periods of the pandemic, “when we started to pull back prematurely, we saw the rebound. We definitely don’t want that to happen”.

Experts are concerned that coronavirus variants may take hold and cause another surge in new cases and deaths if the public are careless about protective measures.

A total of 3,389 cases of coronavirus variants have been reported in the US, according to the CDC.

The vast majority of these cases, 3,283, were caused by the variant known as B.1.1.7, which was originally detected in Britain.

There were 91 cases of a new strain initially discovered in South Africa, called B.1.351, and 15 cases of the P.1 strain first discovered in Brazil.

Modeling data suggest that B.1.1.7 could become the predominant variant in the US in March.

The US is still the worst-hit country with the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 29,214,421 and 530,712, respectively, according to the Johns Hopkins University.