Patients wear personal protective equipment while maintaining social distancing as they wait in line for a COVID-19 test at Elmhurst Hospital Center, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in New York. (JOHN MINCHILLO / AP)
LONDON – New York state on Wednesday ended a 28-month-old COVID-19 mandate requiring masks on trains, buses and other modes of public transit, as well as at airports and in ride-share vehicles, Governor Kathy Hochul said.
"Starting today masks will be optional," Hochul said at a news conference, citing recent revised guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We have to restore some normalcy to our lives…. Masks are encouraged but optional."
Hochul said the mask requirements were also being lifted for taxis and ride-share vehicles, airports, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and detention centers.
New York first adopted the mandate in April 2020 as COVID-19 was rampaging in the New York City area
New York first adopted the mandate in April 2020 as COVID-19 was rampaging in the New York City area.
"It's always been a visible reminder that something is not normal here, and it was there for the right reason. It protected health and now we're in a far different place," Hochul said.
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In recent months, however, many riders in New York had stopped observing the mask policy.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it had updated electronic signs on subways and in stations to make clear mask use is now optional.
"It became more and more difficult to justify and to enforce a mask requirement as so much of the city and so many other places were opening up," MTA Chief Executive Janno Lieber said at a news conference.
In April, the Biden administration decided to no longer enforce a US mask mandate on public transportation after a federal judge in Florida ruled the directive was unlawful. New York declined to adopt the Biden policy in April.
Hochul said masks will still be required in some places like adult care facilities and some other medical facilities.
The Justice Department appealed the Florida judge's ruling invalidating the transportation mask mandate, but a federal appeals court has not yet set the case for oral arguments.
This file illustration photo taken on Nov 23, 2020 shows a bottle reading "Vaccine COVID-19" and a syringe are pictured next to the Pfizer and BioNTech logo. (JOEL SAGET / AFP)
Pfizer has donated 100,000 courses of its COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid to a new group aiming to improve access to the drug in low and middle-income countries.
The Covid Treatment Quick Start Consortium, set up by organizations including Duke University and the Clinton Health Access Initiative with support from the pharmaceutical company, said it is working with ministries of health in 10 countries to set up national test-and-treat programmes.
It aims for high-risk patients in some of the countries to start treatment by the end of this month, the group said in a statement on Wednesday.
While Paxlovid is widely available in many rich countries, availability has been severely restricted in poorer ones, echoing the disparities in the global COVID-19 response.