(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden’s administration took its biggest step yet toward declaring victory over the coronavirus pandemic — announcing that fully vaccinated Americans can ditch their masks in most settings, even indoors or in large groups. Masks are still required on buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, as well as airports.
To drive vaccinations, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is offering vouchers for a Shake Shack burger or sandwich for residents who got their shots, while Six Flags Entertainment Corp. will give away 50,000 tickets to its Illinois theme parks to newly vaccinated residents in the state.
- Global Tracker: Cases top 160.7 million; deaths exceed 3.3 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 1.38 billion doses have been given
- CDC’s U-turn puts business in ‘damned if you do’ (or don’t) bind
- Get shot, show face? How mask rules are changing: QuickTake
- U.S. teen vaccine drive turns to schools, doctors to get shots out
- ‘Covid zero’ havens find reopening harder than containing virus
Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.
Experts Join Call for New Origin Probe (6:51 a.m. HK)
A group of eminent scientists and physicians joined the WHO director-general, European Union and the governments of more than a dozen countries in calling for greater clarity about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Writing in Science Thursday, Jesse Bloom, Ralph Baric, Akiko Iwasaki, Marc Lipsitch and 14 other researchers said that theories of an accidental release from a laboratory and zoonotic spillover both remain viable, though a recent WHO-led study didn’t give balanced consideration to the possibility of a lab accident.
“Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public,” they said. “Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.”
Japan Weighs More Curbs (6:48 a.m. HK)
The Japanese government recommended adding Hiroshima, Kumamoto, Gunma, Ishikawa, Okayama prefectures as areas where stronger measures are needed to tackle coronavirus outbreaks.
Less than 3 months to the Tokyo Olympics, Japan is struggling to contain the spread of infections with record daily cases logged in different parts of the nation over the past weeks, including Hokkaido prefecture where Olympic marathon is planned to be held.
Pelosi Keeps Mask Rule (6:29 a.m. HK)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said masks will still be required for members of Congress and staff on the House floor despite new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that face coverings aren’t needed for those who are fully vaccinated.
She isn’t easing the requirement because its not known how many House members and their staffs are vaccinated, said her spokesman, Drew Hammill.
Washington State Sets Reopening (6:16 a.m. HK)
Governor Jay Inslee said Washington State will reopen fully on June 30 but that it could happen sooner if 70% of people over 16 get at least one dose of vaccine. Inslee also restarted more gradual steps toward reopening after a pause of two weeks because a recent spike in cases is now declining.
“This next part of our fight to save lives in Washington will focus on increasing vaccination rates and continuing to monitor variants of concern as we move toward reopening our state,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference. He said 56% of people in Washington have had at least one dose.
Lollapalooza to Return: Variety (5:51 p.m. NY)
The Lollapalooza Festival will return to Chicago with a four-day event at its usual location July 29 – August 1, Variety reported, citing sources. The city of Chicago has approved near-to or full-capacity. An official announcement could come next week.
Outbreak Strikes Vaccinated Yankees (5:19 p.m. NY)
Eight fully inoculated members of the organization tested positive for Covid-19 this week, including shortstop Gleyber Torres, who also had the virus during the offseason, the Yankees said in a statement Thursday. All of those who tested positive are currently under quarantine protocol in Tampa, Florida, as Major League Baseball and the New York State Department of Health advise the club.
U.K. ‘Anxious’ Over India Strain (4:24 p.m. NY)
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s “anxious” about the spread of a Covid-19 variant from India and ruled no measures out as fresh statistics showed cases more than doubled in the past week.
“We are anxious about it, it has been spreading,” Johnson said in a pooled broadcast interview Thursday, referring to the B1617.2 variant first detected in India. “There’s a range of things we could do, we’re ruling nothing out.”
U.S. Eases Mask Rules (3:51 p.m. NY)
President Joe Biden’s administration took its biggest step yet toward declaring victory over the coronavirus pandemic — announcing that fully vaccinated Americans can ditch their masks in most settings, even indoors or in large groups.
“Today is a great day for America in our long battle with coronavirus,” Biden said in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, calling the U.S. vaccination program an “historical logistical achievement.”
The guidance shift Thursday is a turning point in the fight against Covid-19 and comes as U.S. caseloads fall and vaccinations rise. It signals a broad return to everyday life, and is also a bet that any surge in spread from relaxed guidelines won’t be enough to reverse progress in inoculations.
Masks are still required on buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, as well as airports, she said.
Maine Lifts Restrictions (3:39 p.m. NY)
Maine will lift many virus restrictions, removing capacity limits on most outdoor and indoor events, Governor Janet Mills announced. Masks must still be worn indoors in public places. Physical distancing will be required where people eat and must remove their masks.
“This change aligns with the latest science and makes sense for Maine at this stage, with more people getting vaccinated,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.
U.S. Bill Proposes Billions for Gyms (3:26 p.m. NY)
Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth and Republican Senator Jerry Moran today introduced a bill that would authorize $30 billion in grants to struggling gyms and fitness facilities, according to an emailed statement.
“It’s critical we support the fitness industry to help bring back jobs and provide Americans with opportunities to improve their fitness during this public health crisis,” Duckworth said in statement.
Six Flags Offers Tickets to Boost Illinois Vaccinations (1 p.m. NY)
Six Flags Entertainment Corp. will offer 50,000 tickets to its theme parks in Gurnee and Rockford, Illinois to newly-vaccinated state residents, Governor J.B. Pritzker said.
The value of the tickets is $4 million, the company said.
Ontario Extends Stay-Home Order (12:21 p.m. NY)
Ontario Premier Doug Ford extended the province’s stay-at-home order until at least June 2, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Restrictions on outdoor recreation will be lifted on that date.
“The situation is slowly trending in the right situation,” CBC quoted Ford as saying. “Make no mistake, we’re not out of the woods yet.” He said the goal is for Ontario to have “the most normal July and August as possible.”
Romania Eases Restrictions (11:44 a.m. NY)
Romania will lift a nightly curfew on May 15 and face masks in open spaces will no longer be mandatory, President Klaus Iohannis said Thursday. Private events such as weddings will be allowed with limited capacity after June 1, provided that attendees are vaccinated.
New cases have declined and vaccinations have increased in Romania, putting the country on track to cover 75% of the population in another seven months, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Teachers’ Union to Back Reopening (11:15 a.m. NY)
The president of one of the largest U.S. teachers’ unions planned to call for a full reopening of public schools by the fall. Randi Weingarten’s announcement for the American Federation of Teachers marks a shift by a prominent voice opposing a return to in-person, full-time instruction.
“Conditions have changed,” Weingarten said in prepared remarks for a speech on Thursday. “We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support. And keep them open. Fully and safely five days a week.”
Manila Restrictions Eased (10:54 a.m. NY)
The Manila metro area and surrounding provinces will shift to the second-lowest level of curbs called “general community quarantine” until the end of May, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday. The easing for the region, which is the country’s economic engine, follows a worse-than-expected contraction in the last quarter.
De Blasio: Burgers For Vaccination (10:40 a.m. NY)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said people who get a vaccine will get a voucher for a burger or sandwich from Shake Shack Inc. For those already vaccinated, people can get a free order of French fries after showing a vaccination card.
The mayor appealed to parents to get their kids vaccinated as the city opened up shots for ages 12 to 15 in a bid to “get kids off of Zoom.” The city will also reopen some of its festivals, including the Governors Ball.
Colorado Nursing Homes Hit (10:40 a.m. NY)
Covid-19 outbreaks are increasing at Colorado nursing homes, accounting for six deaths last week, the Denver Post reported Thursday. Cases are also rising at assisted-living facilities and elementary schools, the Post reported.
Africa Testing Declines (9:11 a.m. NY)
The African Union’s health agency urged countries on the continent to increase testing for the coronavirus as more states report different variants of the disease.
Testing dropped 21% last week, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an online briefing Thursday.
Six African nations including South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, Uganda and Kenya have reported the B.1.617 strain that is devastating India and which initial studies show spreads more easily. That’s in addition to the 24 African nations that reported cases of the B.1.1.7 mutation found last year in the U.K., with the same number of countries reporting the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa in 2020.
Billionaire’s South Africa Vaccine Pledge (7:19 a.m. NY)
U.S. biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong will give an initial 3 billion rand ($213 million) to South Africa, the country of his birth, to help with the transfer of new technology for Covid-19 vaccines and other therapies.
The African continent accounts for only about 1.5% of globally administered shots, data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
Serb Cash Vaccine Incentives Working (6:56 a.m. NY)
The Serbian government’s pledge to pay 3,000 dinars ($31) to those receiving vaccines helped speed up inoculation to almost 24,000 people a day from around 8,000 before the offer was announced on May 5, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday.
Among the first on the continent to launch mass vaccination in January with shots from China, Russia and western drugmakers, Serbia faced a slowdown amid skepticism toward vaccines, even as it offered its citizens the choice of four different jabs.
German New Cases Decline Further (2:24 p.m. HK)
Germany’s new infections decreased, with 6,590 cases reported Thursday. German authorities have become increasingly optimistic that Europe’s largest economy can loosen restrictions, including on outdoor dining and domestic tourism.