World

Biden slams ‘Neanderthal’ decisions to end mask mandates

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden slammed "Neanderthal" decisions to drop mask-wearing mandates in Texas and Mississippi, even as Covid-19 continues to rage worldwide, with Brazil hitting record deaths.

Moves by the two US states to defy federal guidelines and ditch mask requirements reflect local frustration with restrictions when Covid-19 caseloads are declining in the United States and vaccine distribution is accelerating.

Mr Biden is touting a surge in vaccine production in the US and says that by May, there will be enough supply for everyone in the country - although it could take months more for the whole population to receive the shots.

But in the White House, he told reporters that this is no time to relax. More than half a million Americans have died from the coronavirus, and the toll ticks upward daily.

The Texas and Mississippi decisions were "a big mistake", he said.

"The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine - take off your mask, forget it. It still matters."

Ms Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), echoed the warning, saying, "now is not the time to release all restrictions".

"The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes."

Fewer than 10 per cent of over-18-year-olds in Texas have had two vaccine doses, but Republican state Governor Greg Abbott said the vaccine and better testing mean normal life can resume.

"For nearly half a year, most businesses have been open either 75 per cent or 50 per cent and during that time too many Texans have been sidelined from employment," he told a business forum.

"This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100 per cent," he said to cheers from his audience.

PERSONAL CHOICE

Many Texans welcomed the move, saying mask-wearing was a matter of personal choice.

But the Democratic mayor of Houston described the decision as "disheartening".

Iowa and Montana eased restrictions last month, and in Massachusetts, restaurants now have no capacity limit.

Some Democratic-led cities, such as San Francisco, are also taking steps towards a post-pandemic life by allowing indoor eating and museums to open with limited capacity. - AFP

WORLD