Dominican Republic ends mask mandate, all other COVID-19 rules

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Municipal workers gather fresh produce that is being discarded as fewer people are shopping at the market, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

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SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 17 (Reuters) - The Dominican Republic ended all COVID-19 public health restrictions on Thursday, including a mask mandate and vaccine checks in public spaces, despite not yet reaching the government's vaccination target of 70% coverage for adults.

President Luis Abinader made the announcement on social media and in a televised message late Wednesday.

"It's time to recover all our freedoms and way of life," he said.

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The Caribbean nation, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, started relaxing COVID-19 containment measures last July, when authorities ended a nighttime curfew that had been in effect since March 2020.

Prior to the latest announcement, the government had required face coverings in public places and proof of vaccination before riding public transportation or showing up at local businesses to work or shop.

Health Minister Daniel Rivera told reporters on Thursday that ending the containment measures was due to "constant reductions" in both COVID-19 infections and death rates.

Officials have registered more than 4,300 fatalities due to COVID-19, and while only eight of the country's 32 provinces have reached the 70% vaccination target, new infections have dipped by about 10% over the past four weeks, according to health ministry data.

After Abinader's order was announced, health worker union leader Senen Caba expressed concern that the decision to end coronavirus restrictions could discourage unvaccinated Dominicans to get their jabs.

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Reporting by Ezequiel Abiu; Writing by David Alire Garcia; editing by Diane Craft

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