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Coronavirus live news: UK variant hits New Zealand; CDC says ‘absolutely’ too soon to lift US mask mandate

Australia suspends quarantine-free travel with New Zealand; Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine gives 94% protection, US daily Covid cases drop below 100,000

12.05am GMT

The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday it is “absolutely” too soon to lift mask mandates, citing daily coronavirus case numbers that despite recent declines remain more than double the levels seen last summer, Reuters reports.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s warning that face-covering requirements are still critical came just days after governors in Iowa and Montana lifted long-standing mask mandates in their states.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Walensky said preventing further surges of infection is key to safely reopening schools and regaining some level of social normalcy until collective immunity can be achieved through mass vaccinations.

11.58pm GMT

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.

I’ll be bringing you the latest developments for the next few hours – you can get in touch with questions and comments on Twitter @helenrsullivan.

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