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Ending mask mandate probably premature: Joe Biden

Although Covid cases are seeing a decline in the US, it is too soon to end restrictions like mask mandates, President Joe Biden has said.

A number of states have dropped mask mandates or set plans in motion to lift mask rules in schools in coming weeks.

But Biden stated that lifting indoor mask mandates was “probably premature”, but acknowledged that making that decision is a “tough call”, New York Times reported.

The President also suggested that rising rates of childhood vaccination, as well as the potential authorisation of vaccines for even younger children, could allow schools to end their own mask mandates.

“Every day that goes by, children are more protected,” Biden said, adding that “the more protection they have, probably you’re going to see less and less requirement to have the masks.”

US cases are falling fast, down to about 1,74,000 daily, a two-thirds drop over two weeks, according to a New York Times database. But hospitalisations, at about 95,000, and deaths, at more than 2,400 daily, remain very high.

A recent CBS poll found that a majority of Americans still support mask mandates, including in schools, but that many are exhausted and frustrated by a pandemic that is grinding into its third year.

In schools, public health experts agree that mask requirements should not last forever, but differ on whether the time has come to remove them.

“I love how people talk about personal freedom. If your exercising personal freedom puts someone else in jeopardy, their health in jeopardy, I don’t consider that being very dealing with freedom,” Biden was quoted as saying on an NBC interview.

The UK is also planning to lift Covid restrictions as Omicron has peaked in the country. But experts have warned to remain cautious.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to end all domestic rules, including the requirement to self-isolate if you are infected with the virus from February 24.

According to Arnaud Fontanet, a senior epidemiologist at France’s Pasteur Institute, measures such as mask wearing, home working and quarantine remained vital in order to slow the number of infections and keep hospital admissions down, the Guardian reported.

“Allowing the virus a free run would be a fundamental error,” he was quoted as saying.

“Quite small changes in behaviour can really influence the dynamic. Reducing contacts now by just 20 per cent — a bit of home working, wearing masks in indoor public spaces — will halve the number of hospital admissions in a fortnight; we know this.”

Meanwhile, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have all lifted Covid restrictions as they look to reclassify the virus as a disease that does not pose a threat to society.

But, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stated “it’s premature for any country either to surrender or to declare victory”.

He said most regions of the world were experiencing a “very worrying increase in deaths” due to Covid, due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.