Ex-FDA chief Scott Gottlieb calls for END of 'divisive' mask and vaccine mandates as COVID cases plummet 12% in seven days

 The surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron-variant has slowed dramatically, with cases falling 12% over the past seven days, leaving experts to call for 'divisive' pandemic restrictions, like mask and vaccine mandates, to be phased out in the United States just as they recently were in the United Kingdom. 

America is averaging 682,374 cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (JH), a 12 percent drop over the past two weeks. 

Dr Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and current board member at Pfizer, says that the declining cases should be a signal to officials that it is time to start lifting some pandemic-related restrictions.

'I think certainly on the east coast where you see cases declining dramatically we need to be willing to lean in and do that very soon I think as conditions improve we have to be willing to relax some of these measures with the same speed that we put them in place,' he told CNBC's The Squawk Box.

He compares the current U.S. situation to that of the UK. Across the pond, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set plans to drop all pandemic restrictions amid a drop in cases. Gottlieb said that America should soon follow, and pointed out masks in schools and vaccine mandates as particularly 'divisive' restrictions that he thinks should go. 

'We haven't described clear goalposts for when we're gonna withdraw a lot of these measures and the two most contentious things right now in the U.S. are the masks among children in schools and the vaccine mandates,' he said. 

He also added that in order for people to comply by Covid rules, health officials need to 'have a flexible doctrine' that changes as the situation of the pandemic does.  1

The drop has Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, optimistic about where the wave is heading.

'Things are looking good. We don't want to get overconfident, but they look like they're going in the right direction right now,' Fauci told ABC's This Week on Sunday.

He notes that while cases are increasing in much of the south and Midwest, they are beginning to decline in northeastern states that were hit hard and fast by the new variant in December. It is likely that western states will also follow the same path as their east coast peers, with cases expected to soon crest before a rapid decline.

'If the pattern follows the trend that we're seeing in other places, such as the northeast, I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country,' Fauci said.

'Since it's a large country and a great deal of variation in the degree of vaccinations that we have in one region compared to another … there may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosters.' 

The calls for restrictions to be dropped come as the overall infection rate has sharply declined in recent weeks. According to data from Our World in Data, 4,110 out of every one million Americans recorded infections on January 10 - by far the highest total. The rate was also 2,643 as late as Friday. That figure has dropped all the way to 615 per one million as of Sunday. 

While quirks in U.S. case reporting definitely play a role in the steep decline - with Sundays always having the lowest case totals since many health departments are closed for the day - the dramatic drop in cases also signals a change in the pandemic for the country. 

Deaths usually lag behind cases, and are beginning to rise to a worrying degree. Data from JH also shows a daily death average of 2,003 - the highest total the nation has reached since late-September. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released projections expecting deaths to rocket in the coming weeks, up to 35,700 deaths - 5,100 per day - during the week of February 13.

Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured), former director of the FDA, said that officials should soon lift some pandemic related restrictions as cases in the U.S. continue to fall

Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured), former director of the FDA, said that officials should soon lift some pandemic related restrictions as cases in the U.S. continue to fall

The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid is also at a record high, but the figure is misleading. Official numbers have 157,429 Covid positive people in the hospital every day, though the figure also includes people who are there for other treatment and testing positive while present. Many of the people included in the total have mild symptoms, or are asymptomatic, and are not suffering severe enough cases to require hospitalization. 

Massachusetts health officials released data last week showing that half of 'Covid hospitalizations' in the state were actually people receiving treatment for another condition.

In the UK, which often front runs ahead of the U.S. by a few weeks, cases are continuing to fall. Daily case totals are hovering around 100,000 per day, a far fall from the 180,000 per day peak reached in early January. Some experts are calling for daily case reporting to be halted for the time being, since the large figures could be misleading and even cause fear among the public. 

South Africa was the first nation to suffer a massive surge of cases as a result of the Omicron variant. The nation saw cases spike in December, getting as high as 23,000 per day in mid-December. The daily case average as cratered since, though, down to around 3,100 per day in late-January - another sign of how quickly Covid could burn out. 

Gottlieb says that the recent decline in cases along the east coast has made him personally feel more prepared to reattend large gatherings.

'We're probably a week or two away where I'll feel comfortable going out into congregate settings again like I was maybe two-and-a-half months ago. In February I've certainly planned business travel,' he said. 

Last week, Gottlieb noted the trend that the virus seems to be moving out west. Early hit states along the east coast like New Jersey, New York and Maryland are seeing sharp case declines in recent weeks, while Midwestern and plains states like Oklahoma, Idaho and Wyoming - which were recording case declines in some parts of December - are now seeing cases rocket.

'The trajectory is kinda baked in right now,' Gottlieb told the Squawk Box last week.

'You are seeing cases rapidly decline in the East Coast and Florida. You are also seeing cases come down in California and seeing hospitalizations fall. But the infection is spreading to the Midwest.'

This kind of trajectory also occurred in the UK. London, like New York City, has proved to be the national pandemic hotspot in England. The city in the southwestern region of the nation was slammed early and hard by the Omicron variant, with cases skyrocketing so quickly some feared the region would have to reenter lockdowns.

Cases in London quickly began to decline, though, and the new restrictions and overwhelming of hospitals that some experts predicted never materialized. The virus started to move northward and eastward afterwards, though, with cases declining in London and other nearby neighborhoods while the virus surged elsewhere.

Nearly every region of the UK is experiencing case declines now, though, as it appears that the Omicron variant has run its course in the country. Only a month ago, some experts feared the nation's healthcare system would be overrun, but now its fortunes have totally reversed and the leaders are even beginning the transition to post-pandemic life.

Last week, mandates put in place to combat Omicron, like work from home orders, mask mandates, vaccine checks for certain events and capacity restrictions were lifted. Requirements for travelers into the nation to test upon arrival were lifted Monday as well.

'The central decision that he made which was to absolutely focus on boosters has been vindicated ... that is the main reason that we are where we are today because the Prime Minister made those decisions,' Health Minister Sajid Javid said of the dropped restrictions.

'The way we are going to do this is we're going to have to find a way to remove almost all of these restrictions and get life completely back to normal but with one or two really big things that I think will be there for a while.'

France suffered its massive Omicron-fueled serve later than England, did and is still experiencing it. Using data from the UK to decided that restrictions in the country will likely be lifted soon as well. Starting February 2, many pandemic restrictions will be lifted. Proof of negative Covid test to enter some dining and entertainment venues will be lifted along with capacity restrictions and work from home orders going by the wayside.

Vaccine passports will still be used for dining and entertainment venues, though.

Ex-FDA chief Scott Gottlieb calls for END of 'divisive' mask and vaccine mandates as COVID cases plummet 12% in seven days Ex-FDA chief Scott Gottlieb calls for END of 'divisive' mask and vaccine mandates as COVID cases plummet 12% in seven days Reviewed by Your Destination on January 24, 2022 Rating: 5

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