Florida emerges from Covid curbs, New York to follow suit

Kolkata, India: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis repealed all Covid-19 restrictions in the US state on Monday, citing vaccine efficacy and availability, a development that drew condemnation from Democratic mayors.

While, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a major easing of coronavirus restrictions Monday, including the imminent resumption of 24-hour operations on the city subway.

DeSantis signed legislation invalidating local emergency orders, which enforce limits as a result of Covid-19, on July 1, and then signed an executive order to close the gap between now and then.

"That's the evidence thing to do," the Republican governor said at a news conference, referring to the reduction in infections and deaths as the vaccine rollout continues.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, almost nine million people in Florida have received at least one dose of the vaccine, out of a total population of 23 million.

"At this point, the people that haven't been vaccinated is certainly not because of a lack of supply or a lack of availability," he added.

Last Friday, the vaccine became available to everyone over the age of 16 without the need for evidence of state residency, which had been expected since January to meet the initial high demand.

This allowed vaccinations for undocumented migrants who had trouble proving their citizenship, as well as, inadvertently, vaccine tourism.

DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate in 2024 who is prominent among many Donald Trump supporters, criticized the tight security measures that remain in place throughout the country.

Those who argue that residents should still be limited, he claims, "don't believe in vaccines."

Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are available, in many cases without an appointment, at federal, state, and county centers, as well as various pharmacies and supermarkets.

"I'm deeply concerned by this decision. We are still in a public health emergency," said Daniella Levine-Cava, Democratic mayor of Miami-Dade County, the most populous in the state.

"Fewer than half of our residents have been vaccinated, and we face a growing threat from variants."

Rick Kriseman, the mayor of St. Petersburg, said DeSantis prioritized his own interests over health policy.

"This isn't for the protection of Floridians," he said. "This is for politics -- and that's not what it's supposed to be."

New York to ease virus curbs

New York's announcement highlights how far the Big Apple, once the epicenter of the United States's outbreak, has come in getting the virus under control.

From May 19, percentage limits on occupancy will be scrapped for many business and cultural venues in the city -- including shops, restaurants, cinemas, and museums, Cuomo said.

These limits currently vary between 33 and 75 percent capacity.

Businesses will be allowed to welcome as many people as they want to provide six feet of social distancing is maintained, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's fully open, subject to six feet," Cuomo told reporters. The six-feet rule does not apply if all customers provide proof of vaccination or a negative test.

"All the arrows are pointing in the right direction," he added, pointing to declining Covid-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations, which are at their lowest since November, and rising vaccination levels.

Outdoor gathering limits will double from 250 to 500 people, while 250 people will be able to get together indoors, up from 100.

Larger gatherings will be allowed if everyone in attendance is either vaccinated or recently tested negative.

The announcement paves the way for New York's famous theaters to plan their return.

"We look forward to reopening at full capacity and are working to safely welcome audiences and employees back to Broadway theatres this fall," said the Broadway League trade association.

Large-scale indoor event venues will be able to operate at 30 percent capacity, up from 10 percent currently, while outdoor sports stadia will operate at 33 percent.

Cuomo said underground train services in the Big Apple will resume around the clock on May 17.

In May 2020, when New York was being ravaged by the disease, services were halted overnight to allow for trains to be disinfected. Services currently stop running between 2:00 am and 4:00 am.

Monday's announcement, made in coordination with the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut, came as 80,000 city government workers returned to offices, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio has said he hopes New York City can "fully reopen" by July 1.

Many private employers have yet to set a return date though, and the business districts in Midtown and Wall Street remain deserted with many staff still working from home.

With AFP input. 

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