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Biden slams 'Neanderthal' mask easing in US states

  • Sebastian Smith

    Agence France-Presse

Washington, United States   /   Thu, March 4, 2021   /   10:15 am
Biden slams 'Neanderthal' mask easing in US states US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 7, 2020, after being declared the winner of the US presidential election. (Agence France-Presse/Andrew Harnik/Pool)

US President Joe Biden slammed "Neanderthal" decisions to drop mask-wearing mandates in some US states as Covid-19 continues to rage worldwide.

As US states Texas and Mississippi defy federal guidelines and ditch mask requirements, Biden told reporters at the White House that this is no time to relax, despite declining case counts. More than half a million Americans have died from the coronavirus, and the toll ticks upward daily.

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

Biden also touted a surge in vaccine production in the United States 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 actually to receive the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), echoed the warning, and said, "The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes."

In Texas, although fewer than 10 percent of over-18-year-olds 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 percent or 50 percent and during that time too many Texans have been sidelined from employment," he told a business forum Tuesday.

"This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100 percent," he said to cheers from his audience, as many Texans say  mask-wearing is 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.

San Francisco is taking steps towards a post-pandemic life by allowing indoor eating and museums to open with limited capacity.

And New York state announced Wednesday that some theaters could open at 33 percent capacity -- with mask-wearing and social distancing -- from April 2.