(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden’s administration took its biggest step yet toward declaring victory over the pandemic — announcing that fully vaccinated Americans can ditch their masks in most settings.
Countries in Asia continue to fight persistent outbreaks while some havens in the region struggle to reopen. Singapore’s local cases rose to the highest since July, fanning concerns that an air travel bubble with Hong Kong may get delayed again. Japan plans to add three more prefectures to the state of emergency.
- Global Tracker: Cases top 160.8 million; deaths exceed 3.3 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 1.38 billion doses have been given
- CEOs criticize Japan’s slow vaccine push, saying growth at risk
- CDC’s U-turn puts business in ‘damned if you do’ (or don’t) bind
- ‘Covid zero’ havens find reopening harder than containing virus
- Modi ally tries to quash reports on India’s deadly Covid crisis
- Where are we in hunting for the coronavirus’s origin?: QuickTake
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Japan to Expand Virus State of Emergency (9:08 a.m. HK)
The Japanese government plans to add three more prefectures to the state of emergency after consulting experts at a meeting held Friday morning, Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s Covid response said at a briefing broadcast by NHK.
The emergency will expand to Hokkaido, Hiroshima and Okayama prefectures and be effective May 16 through the end of the month.
Less than three 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.
Airport Cluster Lifts Singapore Cases to 10-Month High (8:57 a.m. HK)
Singapore’s virus cases in the local community rose to the highest since July last year as authorities found more infections from an existing cluster at Changi Airport, fanning concerns that an air travel bubble with Hong Kong may get delayed again.
Of the 24 cases discovered, 19 were linked to an existing cluster at Changi Airport, the Health Ministry said late Thursday. This brings the total number of cases linked to the aerodrome to 46, making it the largest cluster in Singapore as the virus spread through airport workers and visitors to the terminals.
Taiwan Sees Availability for Vaccines After June (8:50 a.m. HK)
Taiwan’s first locally developed vaccine is expected to be available by the end of July, while shots procured from abroad will arrive in batches after June, according to a statement from Taiwan’s presidential office, citing President Tsai Ing-wen’s speech Thursday night. At least three vaccines are being developed locally, Central News Agency reported.
Vaccine acquisition has been an ongoing struggle for the government. While authorities have previously said they expect to have 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. vaccines available by this summer, so far only 315,000 doses have arrived in Taiwan, enough to fully inoculate about 1% of the population of 23.5 million people.
A record 16,180 people received vaccinations on Wednesday, according to CDC data, as an increase in daily infections threatens to shatter Taiwan’s status as one of the world’s biggest success stories in containing the pandemic.
China Reports First Local Cases in About a Month (8:32 a.m. HK)
Two local cases were confirmed in China’s eastern province of Anhui, according to National Health Commission. The last time local infections were reported was in Yunnan on April 20. China also reported five imported cases.
Wingers Gives Customers Mask Option (8:05 a.m. HK)
With the latest CDC guidelines, at least one restaurant chain said it’s giving customers the option of having a masked server. Wingers CEO Eric Slaymaker said he’s “moving slowly” with the guidelines because he operates in several states with differing rules, including those that have recently lifted the mask requirement.
U.K. May Speed Doses on Variant Concern (7:26 a.m. HK)
U.K. ministers may bring forward second vaccine doses for millions of people after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s “anxious” about the spread of a Covid-19 variant from India.
Cases of the new B.1.617.2 strain of Covid-19 have risen to 1,313 from 520 over the past week, Public Health England said Thursday, assessing the strain to be “at least as transmissible” as the so-called Kent variant that took hold in December, precipitating the U.K.’s third lockdown in January.
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.”
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 it’s 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.
Outbreak Strikes Vaccinated Yankees (5:19 p.m. NY)
The New York Yankees are experiencing a virus outbreak among vaccinated personnel. 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 off season, 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.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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”