Although Covid cases are seeing a decline in the US, it’s too early to end restrictions like mask mandates, President Joe Biden has said.
A number of states have dropped mask mandates or put in place plans to lift mask rules in schools in the coming weeks.
But Biden said lifting indoor mask mandates was “likely premature,” but acknowledged that making the decision is a “tough call,” The New York Times reported.
The president also suggested that increasing childhood vaccination rates, as well as potentially allowing vaccines for even younger children, could allow schools to end their own mask mandates.
“With each passing day, the children are more protected,” Biden said, adding that “the more they are protected, you will probably see less and less of the requirement to have the masks.”
Cases in the United States are falling rapidly, down to around 1,74,000 a day, a two-thirds drop over two weeks, according to a New York Times database. But hospitalizations, at around 95,000, and deaths, at more than 2,400 a day, remain very high.
A recent CBS poll found a majority of Americans still support mask mandates, including in schools, but many are exhausted and frustrated by a pandemic entering its third year.
In schools, public health experts agree mask requirements shouldn’t last forever, but differ on whether now is the time to scrap them.
“I like the way people talk about personal freedom. If your exercise of personal freedom puts someone else at risk, their health at risk, I don’t consider that to be very much related to freedom,” Biden said during an NBC interview.
The UK also plans to lift Covid restrictions as Omicron has peaked in the country. But experts have warned to remain cautious.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced his intention to end all national rules, including the requirement to self-isolate if you are infected with the virus from February 24.
According to Arnaud Fontanet, senior epidemiologist at France’s Pasteur Institute, measures such as mask-wearing, working from home and quarantine have remained vital in slowing the number of infections and reducing hospital admissions, said reported the Guardian.
“Letting the virus circulate freely would be a fundamental mistake,” he said.
“Very small changes in behavior can really influence the dynamics. Reducing contact now by just 20% – some homework, wearing masks in indoor public spaces – will halve the number of hospital admissions in fifteen days; we know it.”
Meanwhile, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have all lifted Covid restrictions as they seek to reclassify the virus as a disease that poses no threat to society.
But, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “it is premature for any country to surrender or declare victory”.
He said most parts of the world were seeing a “very worrying increase in deaths” from Covid, due to the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.
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