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US CDC Director Says Wearing Masks Up to Local Discretion

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a hearing to examine the COVID-19 response on Capitol Hill, March 18, 2021.

U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday her agency is standing by its recommendation that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks inside, even as some U.S. areas — and the World Health Organization — recently said otherwise.

During televised interviews with U.S. television networks, Walensky was asked about officials in Los Angeles County and Illinois recommending that even vaccinated people wear masks to help spread the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The WHO also recently recommended vaccinated people wear masks.

Regarding the WHO, Walenksy told interviewers the organization has to address its policies and safety recommendations to the entire world, where fewer than 15% of the total population has received one dose or more of the vaccine.

She said in the United States, two thirds of the adult population is fully vaccinated, and the CDC continues to say fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks.

But Walensky added the CDC has always said in areas where vaccination rates are low and new cases continue at a high rate — especially involving the Delta variant — then local officials should decide their own rules regarding mask use or other precautions.

New lockdowns abroad

Elsewhere, officials in Bangladesh are preparing to implement the strictest lockdown measures since the pandemic began after a recent surge of new COVID-19 cases.

Beginning Thursday, all residents will be confined to their homes, permitted to leave for emergencies only. Announcements that all public transportation will be shut down has prompted thousands to crowd train, bus and ferry stations before the deadline.

Health officials said the nation set a daily record for deaths on Sunday and a record for new daily cases on Monday. The nationwide infection rate this week stood at about 20%.

Meanwhile, yet another major Australian city is also under a coronavirus lockdown as local officials clash with the federal government over which age group should be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The city of Alice Springs entered a three-day lockdown effective Tuesday after an infected gold mine worker spent several hours in the city’s airport before flying from Northern Territory state to his home in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia state, where he tested positive after his arrival.

A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past light rail platforms in the city center during a lockdown to curb the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney, Australia, June 29, 2021.

Alice Springs joins Sydney, Darwin, Brisbane and Perth on the list of cities that have imposed lockdowns to blunt the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19. The latest outbreak has been traced to a Sydney airport limousine driver who had been transporting international air crews.

Australia has been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 due to aggressive lockdown efforts, posting just 30,602 total confirmed cases and 910 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

But the nation has proved vulnerable to fresh outbreaks due to a slow rollout of its vaccination campaign and confusing requirements involving the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the dominant vaccine in its stockpile.

Health officials had limited AstraZeneca to adults under 60 years old due to concerns of a rare blood-clotting condition that has been blamed for the deaths of two people. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Monday that AstraZeneca will be available for adults under 40 years of age who request it.

Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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