Josie EnsorTue, 2 March 2021, 9:06 pm
The governor of Texas 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.
The move by Governor Greg 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.
“It is now time to open Texas 100 per cent,” Mr Abbott said at an afternoon news briefing.
The full lifting of the mandates will take effect on March 10, he said.
“Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills,” Mr Abbott said to cheers at a press conference held at a local chamber of commerce. “This must end.”
“Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility and caring for your family members, friends and others in your community,” Mr Abbott said. “People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”
The Republican said he knows some officials will worry that opening the state 100 per cent will lead to worsening of Covid in their communities. He says his executive order addresses that concern.
“If Covid hospitalisations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas rise above 15 per cent of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, then a county judge in that region may use Covid mitigation strategies in their county,” Mr Abbott said.
The decision came a day after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against complacency in the face of emerging coronavirus variants.
The CDC and health officials still advise that people wear a mask and avoid crowds to reduce transmission of the virus.
In a briefing on Tuesday, President Joe Biden, who introduced a mask mandate for federal buildings when he took office in January, reiterated that “now is not the time to let up”.
Texas, which has lost 44,000 people to Covid-19, has been averaging about 5,000 new cases and 230 deaths per day over the last week.
Some 13.4 per cent of the state’s 30 million population has received at least one vaccine dose.
Mr Abbott’s order comes as coronavirus infections have plummeted in recent weeks across much of the world, including the United States.
According to a Reuters tally roughly 68,240 new cases have been reported on average each day this week, or 27 per cent of the peak daily average reported on Jan. 7.
The United States has recorded 28,681,793 infections and 513,721 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began