By Michael Jarvis, London UK
In a major policy reversal, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week revised their previous guidance on mask-wearing.
It's now recommending that even fully vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in public places in states rated as having “substantial and high” transmission rates.
In May the CDC had relaxed the requirement for indoor mask-wearing by fully vaccinated people.
The new guideline was expected to be endorsed by President Joe Biden who described the CDC position as “another step on our journey to defeating this virus”.
This was expected as Mr Biden was also due to announce that all federal employees and contractors, should be vaccinated or submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements.
With the Delta variant spreading across the country and vaccination rates slowing - the current national rate is just 50 per cent - mask-wearing and intensifying the vaccination campaign are said to be priorities for the Biden administration.
He said he would “lay out the next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated” this Thursday.
Already, several states including New York and California are pushing ahead with vaccination requirements for government workers and mask-mandates in public places.
White House chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci has said that officials were looking into revising the guidance on mask-wearing for Americans who have been vaccinated.
“When you talk to people who run hospitals, in New Orleans or other states, 90% of people in hospital with Delta variant have not been vaccinated,” he said in a CNN interview. “That’s another signal the vaccine works.”
With COVID-19 cases are on the rise again across the United States driven by the “hyper-contagious” Delta variant, there is concern that further restrictions and guidance on mask-wearing and other measures could deter people from returning to work.
There is a concern that this was also likely to throw the government’s plans to kick-start the economy off-balance.
Some employers feel that the combined uptick in cases and the reversal of the CDC’s previous guidance would make it difficult to get their staff back to work in the coming months especially heading into the autumn and winter when cases are expected to rise further.
Meanwhile, in England, it’s no longer a legal requirement to wear face coverings in indoor settings or on public transport.
However, many businesses including the operators of the capital’s transport network Transport for London(TfL) run are advising customers in general to wear a mask when on their promises and using their services.
The UK government’s own advice also states, “Lifting restrictions does not mean the risks from COVID-19 have disappeared, but at this new phase of the pandemic response we are moving to an approach that enables personal risk-based judgments.”
The government has started relaxing restrictions in England, based on a high vaccination rate, but an increase in infections and deaths most of which are linked to the now dominant Delta virus, is a concern that’s being closely analysed.
The British government had previously said its strategy to reopen the economy and continuing to relax restrictions was “irreversible”.
However, more a cautious tone has been recently been adopted as government officials and health experts monitor the current pattern of infections, with the majority of new cases among unvaccinated people.
It made another adjustment this week to its reopening strategy, announcing that people who have been fully vaccinated in the EU or US will not need to isolate when coming to England from an amber list country.
As well as reopening to the EU and the US, international cruises will also be allowed to restart from England.
The change, which comes into effect from Monday, August 1st however excludes France where COVID-19 cases have been increasing, linked to a new Beta virus of the disease.
At the same time, France and several other EU countries also have an effective ban on travellers from the United Kingdom, as does the US.