Taiwan Cases Jump; Olympics Like ‘Suicide Mission’: Virus Update

Taiwan imposed restrictions on gatherings and ordered entertainment businesses to shutter operations as it raised the alert level in its capital to battle a surge in local Covid-19 infections.

There were a record 180 new local cases reported on Saturday, climbing from 29 on Friday, authorities said. Taiwan is limiting indoor gatherings to five people and outdoor gatherings to 10. Alert levels were raised for Taipei from May 15 to 28.

Holding the Olympics as planned in Tokyo this summer would be like a “suicide mission” because Japan has been so late in vaccinating its population, Hiroshi Mikitani, the chief executive of Japanese online retailer Rakuten Group Inc. said in an interview with broadcaster CNN.

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Only 30% of Hong Kong hospital staff vaccinated (11:05 a.m. HK)

Just 24,000 hospital employees in Hong Kong have been vaccinated, roughly 30% of the total, Henry Fan, chairman of the Hospital Authority, said on the RTHK radio show Saturday morning.

Hong Kong had vaccinated just 12.6% of its residents as of May 14, despite having enough doses for the entire population. The government has urged people to be inoculated before September when some shots expire as unused vaccines pile up.

Support for Japan’s Suga fall to new low in poll (10:55 a.m. HK)

Support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga fell to 32.2%, the lowest since he took office in September, in a poll published by Jiji Press late Friday.

The proportion of respondents saying they didn’t support him rose to 44.6%, the highest level so far, amid growing dissatisfaction over his handling of the pandemic and the vaccine rollout.

The survey is the latest in a series to show flagging support, as Suga faces an election for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September and a general election that must be held by October.

Thailand reports new cases (9:41 a.m. HK)

Thailand reported 3,095 new virus cases on Saturday. The country recorded 4,887 infections on Thursday, it’s highest ever, and since April 1 it has added 70,282.

Work Begins on Reopening U.S.-Canada Border (9:11 a.m. HK)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has begun preliminary internal discussions about reopening the border with the U.S., even as Canada remains well behind its neighbor in vaccinations.

Senior officials have begun to formally talk about options for how to proceed, three people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition they not be identified. One question under consideration is whether to employ a two-track system in which quarantine and testing requirements would be relaxed for vaccinated travelers.

Oklahoma Reports India Variant (6:15 a.m. HK)

Oklahoma has found a cluster of 17 cases of a virus variant first found in India, the state’s department of health reported. Among the cases, three people were fully vaccinated and two were partially vaccinated. The B.1.617.2 variant, which is also spreading quickly in the U.K., is not listed as a variant of concern by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maryland, Virginia Lift Mask Mandates (5:59 p.m. NY)

Virginia and Maryland lifted their mask mandates in all but a few circumstances following new CDC guidance, while recommending that unvaccinated people continue to wear them.

“If fully vaccinated, you should feel free to safely resume any activities without wearing a mask indoors or outdoors,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, said at a news conference. “Those who have not been vaccinated are strongly advised to immediately do so.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, said on Twitter: “It’s very simple. It’s either a shot or a mask. It’s up to you.” For those not vaccinated, he said, “we strongly encourage you to wear masks in public.”

Both states carved out exceptions such as schools, and businesses are permitted to impose their own mask requirements.

Walmart Drops Masks for Vaccinated (5:20 p.m. NY)

Walmart Inc. said fully vaccinated staff and customers can now leave their masks at home, a decision that could influence how other businesses respond to the latest government guidance.

The nation’s biggest private employer said fully vaccinated staff need not wear a mask at work starting May 18, the same day the retailer reports first-quarter results. The rule applies to all of its U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club locations, distribution centers and offices. Customers who have been inoculated can also shop without face coverings as of Friday, although masks could still be required by some local ordinances, Walmart executives said in a memo to employees Friday.

CDC Had to ‘Take a Chance’ (4:45 p.m. NY)

The CDC’s relaxed mask-wearing guidance is open to revision, particularly if there are local outbreaks or if gathering in relatively sparse crowds is found to cause an increase in cases, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins said.

“If it looks in certain communities the virus is coming back, or if there’s a new variant that seems particularly contagious, then we may need to adjust that,” Collins said on MSNBC. Even so, “it’s time to take that chance, as they have now done, and to see if all of us can get a little closer back to normal life,” he said.

N.J. to Keep Indoor Mask Mandate (4:38 p.m. NY)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is leaving the state’s indoor mask mandate in place for public settings, according to a tweet. “We’re making incredible progress, but we’re not there yet.” Among all U.S. states, New Jersey, the most densely populated, has the fourth-lowest case count per capita, he wrote.

Republicans — who, like Murphy, are running for re-election in November — criticized the governor. “According to the CDC, the science doesn’t support waiting weeks — it supports lifting unjustified mandates today,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a River Vale Republican seeking a Senate seat, said in a statement.

Vegas Resorts Move on Masks (1:35 p.m. NY)

Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp., two Nevada casino operators, will tell vaccinated guests they can stop wearing masks, following new guidance from state and federal regulators.

Wynn plans to begin delivering that message to customers Friday evening, trusting guests to take the appropriate precautions based on their personal vaccination status, according to a statement. Sands said that while it won’t ask vaccinated patrons to wear masks, it is still requiring staff to do so for now.

MGM Resorts International, the largest casino operator on the Las Vegas Strip, is expected to update its policy shortly.

The companies are among the first to amend their masking and social-distancing policies following the revised guidance Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said vaccinated persons could stop wearing masks both indoors and out in almost all circumstances.

CDC Links Mask Rules to Study (1:25 p.m. NY)

The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine and the Moderna Inc. shot were 94% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 in a real-world study of health-care workers that was key to the federal decision to ease restrictions for fully vaccinated people.

“This report provided the most compelling information to date that Covid-19 vaccines were performing as expected in the real world,” Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

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