Vaccine requirements are being lifted across America as Covid cases wane


Seattle, the biggest city in the state where the first U.S. case of Covid-19 was confirmed more than two years ago, will lift its proof-of-vaccination requirement for restaurants, theaters and gyms starting March 1.

And city and county employees who have been working from home for two long years will soon start getting called back into the office.

From coast to coast, other major cities, including Philadelphia, the Twin Cities and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., are doing the same as the rate of Covid-19 infections plummets. Nationally, the average number of new daily cases has dropped by 67 percent in the last two weeks, according to NBC News’ tally.

“Numbers are coming down, and it is time to adapt,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said after the state’s stringent mandate, which required businesses to demand proof of full vaccination or mask-wearing at all indoor venues, expired this month.

On Thursday, Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, New Jersey, became the latest big-city mayor to lift the requirement to show proof of vaccination at restaurants and other public venues.

“The data shows that we are making tremendous progress,” Baraka said in a statement. “Our three-day rolling average for the City of Newark is at 2.5%. We have not been here in a long time.”

In Washington, D.C., where Covid cases have dropped by more than 90 percent since the height of the omicron wave, Mayor Muriel Bowser gave constituents a post-Valentine’s Day present by announcing that proof of vaccination will no longer be required in places like restaurants and entertainment venues starting Feb. 28.

Israel: Green Pass to be canceled as GOVERNMENT debates future restrictions


Israel’s Green Pass system will no longer be extended after March 1 when the current system is set to expire, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday morning.

“We were the first country to close its borders to Omicron, so it is now time to start lessening [the restrictions] gradually,” Bennett said at the start of a discussion on the future of corona restrictions in Israel. “As far as I’m concerned, we need to prepare for the end of the restrictions soon.”

The discussion focused on the steps Israel will take now that the Omicron wave has passed its peak, in order to maintain a normal sense of life while also remaining alert for any future corona waves.

While the Green Pass restrictions have been severely reduced over the last few weeks, they will now be removed entirely, although one aspect – the need to perform an antigen test at the entrance to nursing homes – will remain.

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New Covid data show New York returning to pre-Omicron surge levels


Gov. Kathy Hochul reported the lowest number of hospitalizations since mid-December

As public health officials and others debate the moves of several Democratic governors this week to relax pandemic restrictions, new coronavirus data released on Saturday for New York show just how far the state has come from its most recent peak in January, when daily new infections and hospitalizations were alarmingly high.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that 3,883 New Yorkers were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, the lowest since Dec. 19 when the Omicron variant was just taking hold across the state and country.

And Friday’s statewide positivity rate — the share of positive cases among those tests reported — was at 2.5 percent, a far cry from the 23 percent positivity rate recorded just after New Year’s Day.

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Norway drops almost all COVID-19 restrictions


Norway is dropping most COVID-19 measures, including distancing, mask-wearing and quarantining requirements, the government announced Saturday.

“The coronavirus pandemic is no longer a major health threat to most of us,” Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Saturday. “The Omicron virus causes far less serious illness and we are well protected by vaccines,” he argued.

From Saturday morning, requirements to keep a one-meter distance and wear a face mask are lifted; infected adults no longer have to quarantine, but are advised to stay home for four days, Reuters reported.

The government also eased travel restrictions, dropping remaining requirements to carry proof of a negative test. But the government carved out an exception for travel to the archipelago of Svalbard, arguing health services are limited there.

The shift follows advice by Norway’s Institute of Public Health that there aren’t clear benefits to delaying the spread of the coronavirus with restrictive measures.

Portugal to drop COVID test requirement for arriving passengers


Portugal will drop a requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test for air passengers arriving with a valid digital European Union certificate or recognised proof of vaccination, the government said on Thursday.

The move, approved in a cabinet meeting, is aligned with European Union rules.

In a statement, the government said negative tests will no longer be required for “those who present the EU COVID Digital Certificate in any of its modalities or other proof of vaccination that has been recognised”.

Melbourne bids farewell to COVID-19 lockdown and the controversial curfew


Victoria has finally downed one of the bluntest and most controversial public health tools used during the pandemic.

As of today, the lockdown has lifted from Melbourne, and along with it, the curfew.

There are hopes the measures will not be needed again any time soon in a highly vaccinated population.

With the eased restrictions come a raft of returned freedoms, including dine-in hospitality, more outdoor activities and limited household visits.

Counts of days spent under lockdown vary, but most find Melburnians have now spent the longest period under COVID-19 lockdown as any city in the world.

But while the usefulness of lockdown in curbing movement and preventing a catastrophic overwhelming of health systems has been broadly accepted, the curfew has remained a controversial measure.

Western Sydney residents enjoy ‘Freedom Day’ after months of harsher lockdown restrictions


They’ve suffered more than most during NSW’s lockdown, but excited Western Sydney residents have today been out in force, enjoying their new freedoms.

After 106 days in lockdown, queues of shoppers counted down the final minutes of the Sydney lockdown while waiting in line outside Kmart stores in Casula and Mount Druitt.

Retail shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers were permitted to reopen on the stroke of midnight to customers fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Subjected to harsher restrictions than the rest of Sydney, residents of the 12 local government areas (LGAs) of concern endured nighttime curfews and strict limits on how far they could travel.

NSW Premier Dominic Perottet said the Canterbury-Bankstown area and Western Sydney would continue to be monitored but he hoped today’s reopening conveyed a message of unity.

Australian border to reopen for first time in pandemic


Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives.

Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border rules – even banning its own people from leaving the country.

The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” PM Scott Morrison said.

Australia has recorded more than 1,300 deaths from Covid-19 and more than 107,000 cases of infection.

People would be eligible to travel when their state’s vaccination rate hit 80%, Mr Morrison told a press briefing on Friday.

Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores”.

Denmark drops “red” status for all countries including UK regions


Denmark has dropped the most restrictive “red” travel classification for all countries including England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, meaning vaccinated travellers from these countries will no longer need to self-isolate on arrival.

“The national COVID-19 task force on travel restrictions has decided to deactivate the red safety valve for all current red countries and regions,” Denmark’s foreign ministry said in a press release.

“The task force’s decision is due to the fact that the delta variant has become dominant both in Denmark and globally and thus has now outcompeted the other virus variants (beta and gamma), which are no longer considered by the health authorities to be particularly worrying.”

The change will see 21 countries move from “red” to “orange”, including Argentina, Botswana, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Eswatini, Fiji, Iraq, Iran, Malaysia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Libya, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Russia, Panama, Namibia, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This means Denmark’s foreign ministry no longer advises Danish residents against travelling to these areas.

It also means that travellers from these areas, if vaccinated, will no longer need to go into self-isolation on arrival in Denmark, have a “worthy purpose” to travel to Denmark if they are resident in an OECD country, show a negative PCR test at the border, or to get a PCR test on arrival.

The Good News From Lollapalooza Music Festival About COVID


Lollapalooza certainly looked scary from above. The Chicago music festival, held at the end of July, brought footage of enormous crowds of people squashed together, presumably shouting and singing and generally spraying aerosols:

Now, however, health officials in Chicago are saying that Lollapalooza does not appear to have been a superspreader event, as some feared it would be.

Out of nearly 400,000 people who attended the festival, just 203 tested positive for the virus, as NBC Chicago reported. The vast majority of people at the event—at least 88 percent—were vaccinated. While the case numbers include breakthrough cases (127 of them), festivalgoers who were unvaccinated were four times as likely to be among those cases.

Yes, it’s possible that those people spread the virus to others after the event, and that testing and self-reporting missed some cases; we also still don’t really know how breakthrough infections connect to long COVID. But this news has to be taken as good, because the numbers from Lollapalooza seem to confirm that the delta variant is not a fundamentally different virus from the one we’ve been enduring since last spring.