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Why the Newest Covid-19 Mutation Spells Trouble for Economic Recovery

Reports indicate that Covid-19 has spawned yet another mutation, and this one might outsmart the current crop of coronavirus vaccines.

If vaccines are proven to be ineffective against the newly identified variant that has popped up in California, then consumers and business could face new shelter-in-place orders, further threatening economic recovery. Retail in particular faces a grim and uneven outlook if recovery plans encounter new obstacles that further threaten consumer spending.

California residents are already under stay-at-home orders that only permit excursions for work, local shopping and necessities like medical appointments. The orders also seek to stop households from mingling to help curtail Covid’s spread. The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday said California has reported 3 million Covid cases, meaning roughly 1 out of 13 in the state have been infected with the virus.

The U.K. reported a new “frustrating and alarming” mutation earlier this month that forced a third national lockdown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.K. variant is projected to become the dominant variant in the U.S. by March. Mutations discovered through extensive testing have since been identified in South Africa, Brazil and, on Tuesday, in Germany. That’s in addition to the two virus variants identified in Ohio last week, as well as the one in Los Angeles that some believe might be linked to a variant first identified in Denmark.

In the case of the Los Angeles strain—present in Southern California across Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino, San Diego, as well as in Central region in San Luis Obispo County and further north in San Francisco—one concern is the efficacy of vaccines, which inhibit or lessen the degree of severity of a Covid-19 infection.

On Monday, President Trump lifted a Covid-related travel ban on incoming travelers from 26 countries, including the U.K. and Brazil, but left in place restrictions on travel from Iran and China. Jen Psaki, incoming press secretary of President-elect Joe Biden, said that the restrictions would not be lifted. In a posting on Twitter, she wrote: “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.” Psaki added that on the advice of the incoming administration’s medical team, “the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

Last week, Biden said he plans to sign an executive order on his first day as president that would require Americans to wear masks on public buses and trains that cross state lines, and would require their use in federal buildings. He also pledged to distribute “at least 100 million vaccine shots” during his first 100 days in office. Biden last week also unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that, if passed, would aid unemployed Americans and small business owners as the new administration puts in place strategies to jumpstart an economic recovery.

As of Tuesday, 400,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid 10 months into the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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