Texas becomes biggest US state to lift coronavirus mask mandate

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The Texas Governor has lifted most of the state’s coronavirus pandemic restrictions, allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity as of next week and telling residents that masks were no longer required.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has faced sustained criticism from his party over the statewide mask mandate — a measure introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus that has killed more than 42,000 Texans.

The move by Mr Abbott marks the furthest any US state has so far gone to roll back harsh restrictions on businesses and residents imposed by political leaders in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.

“It is now time to open Texas 100 per cent,” Mr Abbott said at a press conference held in a restaurant.

Hospitality venues would have limits on the numbers of patrons removed, he said.

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Mr Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many surrounding him were not wearing masks.

“It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”

He said the new rules would take effect March 10, unleashing a wave of alarm from big city mayors and leaders along the US-Mexico border, where the virus has been especially rampant.

Mask mandate removal receives criticism

White House COVID adviser Andy Slavitt told CNN he hopes Mr Abbott will reconsider the decision to lift the mask mandate.

“Absolutely reckless,” California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted in response to the announcement.

Federal US health officials this week urgently warned states to not let their guard down, warning that the pandemic is far from over.

Nevertheless, governors across the US are easing coronavirus restrictions.

a nurse waits to test people for coronavirus next to a sign reading covid-19 testing check-in
The new rules will come into place in Texas on March 10.(Reuters: Lucy Nicholson)

Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen the number of cases and deaths plunge.

Hospitalisations are at the lowest levels since October, and the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.

Only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas.

“The fact that things are headed in the right direction doesn’t mean we have succeeded in eradicating the risk,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modelling Consortium.

She said the recent deadly winter freeze in Texas that left millions of people without power — forcing families to shelter closely with others who still had heat — could amplify transmission of the virus in the weeks ahead, although it remains too early to tell.

Dr Ancel Meyers said masks are one of the most effective strategies to curb the spread.

ABC/Wires

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