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Snowstorm blankets US East Coast, threatening vaccine rollout

More than 60 million people are under bad weather warnings, from Maine to South Carolina; officials say they’re working to ensure delivery of shots is not interrupted

A person holds an umbrella as she walks under the snow in Times Square in New York City, December 16, 2020, as Storm Gail hits the East coast. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP)
A person holds an umbrella as she walks under the snow in Times Square in New York City, December 16, 2020, as Storm Gail hits the East coast. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP)

WASHINGTON, United States — A major snowstorm hit the US East Coast during Thursday’s early hours, creating extra challenges in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic and a mass vaccination rollout taking place across the region.

The winter storm, moving over New York, Pennsylvania and other northeastern states, leaves millions facing more than a foot of snow a week before Christmas, potentially disrupting coronavirus testing and delaying holiday deliveries.

It also left more than 60 million people under bad weather warnings from Maine to South Carolina.

New York City, if hit as badly by the storm as predicted, would be facing the most snow from one storm in more than four years, after it was hit with two feet in January 2016.

Officials in New York state and Pennsylvania said they were prepared to deal with the bad weather to ensure that vaccine delivery schedules went ahead as planned.

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant on December 13, 2020 in Portage, Michigan (Morry Gash – Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Delivery companies FedEx and UPS said they had also put measures in place to mitigate the storm’s effects.

Snowfall rates in both states were two inches per hour, with more than 12 inches in total, according to the US National Weather Service (NWS).

It said snow could reach up to two feet in some parts of the states, which both dispatched plows to keep the roads clear.

Boston, the most populous city in Massachusetts, imposed an emergency and issued a parking ban on key roads for workers.

“Confidence is high that this major winter storm will result in significant impacts including travel disruptions and power outages across much of the northern Mid-Atlantic, southern New York and southern into central New England,” the NSW said in a tweet late Wednesday.

Despite the potential disruption, people rushed to play in New York City’s famous Times Square — some dressed as characters such as Elmo and Batman and others having snowball fights — as it became blanketed in white.

While the snow brought joy for some, restaurants stacked chairs and tables and shuttered after a snow alert effectively put an end to outdoor dining, the last hope of custom for some business owners because of social distancing rules.

In Pennsylvania, the transportation department told drivers to limit journeys and introduced new speed restrictions to prevent accidents.

Cars move near Queens Boulevard in the Queens borough of New York as snow starts to fall on December 16, 2020. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Hundreds of schools announced they would close and again retreat to online learning, bolstered by the experience of the pandemic.

Airlines also canceled hundreds of flights on Wednesday, preventing many — some returning home for Christmas — from traveling.

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