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New Covid Variants from South Africa, Brazil Worry Health Experts

California and other large states are loosening Covid restrictions just as scientists warn that more-contagious variants of the virus are beginning to take hold in the U.S. and the vaccine rollout struggles.

With a two-month spike in cases beginning to subside, California Governor Gavin Newsom is lifting the state’s stay-at-home order. New York, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts also are easing restrictions.

The shift comes as new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining. Still, the new variants — including one in the U.K., another in California and a Brazilian one first identified in the U.S. on Monday in Minnesota — are setting off alarms, and may be more transmissible. The U.S. has administered only about 23.4 million vaccines for a population of about 331 million.

“We’re just asking to go backwards by easing restrictions without focusing on achieving herd immunity with vaccination,” said Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “It’s very fragile.”

After almost a year of grueling lockdown, and losses both human and economic, governors and mayors are under intense pressure to balance safety and the desires of many constituents.

On Monday, Dara Maleki was just about to start returning the tents he had rented to cover the patios at his Pizza Press restaurants in Southern California when he heard that Newsom was lifting the stay-at-home order. Maleki plans to resume outdoor dining at his Anaheim-based chain as soon as he gets the word from local authorities.

“We’ve been in survival mode for so many months,” he said. “Hopefully now we can enter recovery mode.”

Newsom on Monday lifted restrictions statewide that effectively shut thousands of businesses including restaurants, bars, hair salons and movie theaters for the past two months.

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