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U.S. health officials dialed back their threshold for

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masking recommendations. The guidance signaled that the federal government is prioritizing protecting hospitals and vulnerable people over broadly preventing infections.

Students at New York Citys

public schools will not have to wear masks outdoors when they return after a mid-winter break on Monday, the first step to what Mayor Eric Adams said was a plan to ease up on mandates throughout the city.

More than 10% of European Union citizens living in Hong Kong have left the city, according to the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau, as its strict Covid Zero measures continue to

frustrate residents. 

Key Developments:

South Korea Posts Record Covid Deaths (8:46 a.m. HK)

South Korea reported a daily record of 112 coronavirus-related deaths Saturday. That brings the countrys total deaths related to Covid-19 to 7,895.

The country posted 166,209 new infections, remaining near the daily

record high, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said in a statement. Authorities forecast the virus surge could peak in mid-March with daily cases reaching up to 250,000,

according to Yonhap News.

U.S. Loosens Mask Guidance (3:50 p.m. NY)

U.S. health officials dialed back their threshold for

masking recommendations, a signal that the federal government is shifting into a new phase of its pandemic response that prioritizes protecting hospitals and vulnerable people over broadly preventing infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday introduced a new three-tiered system for classifying local Covid-19 risks. In areas where the risks from the virus are low, officials said that most people can go without masks in indoor public places such as restaurants or shopping malls.

The recommendations also apply to schools — the first update to school guidance since July 2021. While the CDC earlier recommended masks for schools regardless of community risk level, the updated recommendation is for a requirement only in high-risk areas. 

Colorado Urges Vaccinated to Shed Masks (3:10 p.m. NY)

Colorados top health officials are encouraging vaccinated residents to

move beyond the pandemic and shed their masks after two years of Covid-19, Governor Jared Polis said Friday.

It feels like 10 years instead of two years Polis said at a news conference, urging a return to normalcy. Unlike earlier briefings neither Polis nor his advisors were wearing masks.

Were in a really good place, said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, director of the state Department Public Health and Environment. An estimated 90% of state residents are immune to the omicron variant and 81% have received at least one vaccine dose, Ryan said.

New Singapore Cases Fall For Third Day (11:20 a.m. NY)

Singapores new local cases

fell for the third-straight day after hitting a record high earlier this week, the latest Ministry of Health data show.

The Southeast Asian financial hub found 18,383 new local infections as of noon Friday, including those detected through rapid tests, down from 18,434 the day before. The city-states local cases hit a new high of 25,731 on Feb. 22 and the MOH expects it may take a few weeks before the transmission wave peaks.

EU Suggests Booster After 3 Months (9:29 a.m. NY)

The European Medicines Agencys human medicines committee recommended reducing the interval between primary and Spikevax booster doses from six to three months. It also recommended authorizing the use of Modernas vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously completed a primary vaccination with another mRNA vaccine or an adenoviral vector vaccine.

Students at New York Citys

public schools will not have to wear masks outdoors when they return after a mid-winter break on Monday, the first step to what Mayor Eric Adams said was a plan to ease up on mandates throughout the city.

Masks will still be required inside for all students, staff and visitors of the U.S.s largest school system, which has roughly 1 million students. Adams said he was eager to lift all city mask and vaccine mandates, but he would follow the science and only do so on the suggestion of city health officials. 

Germany Warns Pandemic Not Over (5:44 a.m. NY)

The pandemic isnt over, and Germany is still struggling with rising case rates among high-risk groups, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said in Berlin Friday. 

Germany will face problems in the fall if it doesnt boost its vaccination rates, in particular among its older population, Lauterbach said.

EU Expats Leaving Hong Kong (5:48 p.m. HK)

More than 10% of European Union citizens living in Hong Kong have

left the city, according to the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau, as its strict Covid Zero measures continue to frustrate residents while the rest of the world adjusts to living with the virus. 

This exodus happened over the past year or so, Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao reported Friday. The EU office has relayed concerns from expatriates and business community to the Hong Kong government around flight bans and travel restrictions, school closures, extended quarantine in government facilities and separation of children, it said in a statement Thursday.

Hong Kong Cases Surge Again (5:40 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong reported 21,979 cases on Friday as officials struggle to contain the citys

worst ever outbreak and residents prepare for mandatory mass testing next month thats set to uncover even more infections.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong, once known as the freest economy on earth and Asias World City, is now

second only to Pakistan as the worst place to live during Covid. The city saw its ranking tumble to 52nd on Bloombergs

Covid Resilience Ranking.

Hong Kong is now dealing with a bigger Covid crisis than the outbreak in Wuhan that heralded the start of the pandemic, throwing into doubt whether Chinas Covid Zero playbook of mass testing, isolation and quarantine can stamp it out. Dr. Amesh Adalja, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security senior scholar, explains how the city got here on Bloomberg Quicktakes Charge.

 

New Delhi Relaxes Restrictions (5:05 p.m. HK)

The Indian capital withdrew most of its Covid restrictions — even though mask-wearing remains in force. All schools in the city will move entirely to in-person teaching from April 1, New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a Twitter post. India has had some of the longest school closures in the world and most continue to offer hybrid options.

Vegan Vaccine (11:50 a.m. HK)

The worlds first plant-derived Covid vaccine was

cleared for use in Canada, creating a novel immunization to combat the virus from a unit of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. and Philip Morris International. 

The vaccine named Covifenz was jointly developed by Medicago Inc., a biopharma company owned by Mitsubishi Chemical and Philip Morris and based in Quebec City, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc. It will be available for adults aged 18 to 64, Health Canada said in a statement.

With assistance by Kurt Schussler