Texas governor ends pandemic restrictions as infection rates drop
Democrats blast the move as politically motivated but new Covid-19 cases in the state have dropped to a five-month low
Houston — Texas governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday lifted the mask mandate and other pandemic restrictions amid declining hospitalisations and infection rates in the second-largest US state.
Effective from March 10, all businesses will be allowed to open at 100% of capacity, Abbott said during a media briefing in Lubbock on Tuesday. His executive order allows county judges to reinstate anti-virus rules should hospitalisations surge.
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities; too many small-business owners have struggled to pay their bills,” the Republican governor said. “It is now time to open Texas 100%.”
Abbott’s pandemic measures have drawn the ire of his conservative electoral base, which saw them as government overreach, and may have wounded any presidential aspirations. He received 0% of the vote in a presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference this past weekend.
The move was immediately blasted by Democrats as irresponsible and politically motivated.
“An irresponsible decision guided by political expedience and nothing else,” Houston city controller Chris B Brown said in a tweet. “Not only will this set us back in the battle against Covid-19 in the region, it will likely prolong the economic pain brought on by the pandemic.”
New Covid-19 cases in Texas dropped to a five-month low of 1,637 on Monday, state health department figures showed. Virus hospitalisations slipped to the smallest tally since October 28.
Earlier Tuesday, Abbott said in a tweet that Texas is administering more than 1-million Covid-19 vaccinations weekly.
“Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting Covid,” Abbott said.
As of Sunday, none of the state’s 22 trauma-service areas had more than 15% of hospital capacity occupied by virus patients. The pandemic has claimed almost 43,000 Texans since it emerged in early 2020.
In San Francisco, mayor London Breed said indoor dining, movie theatres and gyms can reopen on a limited basis after California moved the region to a less-restrictive tier.
“Thanks to everyone in our city acting responsibly and doing their part, we can take another step towards reopening and beginning our recovery,” Breed said in a statement.
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