Tuesday, September 27, 2022

EU removes mask recommendation for air travel as pandemic rages on

Berlin The EU will no longer recommend the wearing of medical masks at airports and planes amid the easing of coronavirus restrictions starting next week, officials said on Wednesday, although member states may still require them.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it hoped the joint decision made with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control would mark a “major step in the normalization of air travel” for passengers and crew.

The new guideline takes “the latest developments in the pandemic, particularly in line with the level of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity, and the lifting of restrictions in a growing number of European countries,” the two agencies said in a joint statement.

“Passengers however should behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them,” said EASA executive director Patrick Q. “And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask for the reassurance of those sitting nearby.”

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While the new recommendations take effect on May 16, the rules for masks may still vary by airline beyond that date if they fly to or from destinations where the rules are different.

Germany’s health ministry said it would require all passengers over the age of 6 to wear medical masks on flights to or from the country, although they can be removed during meals.

Last week, German carrier Lufthansa refused to board a plane to a large group of Jewish passengers because some refused to wear masks. The airline has since apologized for the incident.

Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said hand-washing and social distancing should still be practiced, but advised airport operators to comply with the removal requirements if it is likely to be a bottleneck. Do not apply

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The agencies also recommended that airlines put in place systems to collect passenger locator information if needed in the future, for example if a new dangerous variant comes to the fore.

Airlines welcomed the change in guidance and called for a coherent approach to the mask mandate.

“We believe that the requirements for masks on board aircraft should end when masks are not mandatory in other parts of daily life, for example in theatres, offices or on public transport,” said Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association.

The decline in reported COVID-19 cases over the past weeks has prompted countries across Europe to roll back pandemic-related restrictions.

Germany said on Wednesday it was disbanding a crisis task force appointed to lead the official response.

And the French government announced separately on Wednesday that people would not have to wear facemasks on any form of public transport from Monday.

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Health Minister Olivier Veran, speaking after a cabinet meeting, said the decision was part of policies to lift most restrictions as the pandemic slows in the country.

French authorities this week reported nearly 39,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an average of 30% less than last week. The number of patients in hospitals has also been steadily decreasing in recent weeks.

Now there will be no need to wear facemasks in metros, buses, trains and domestic flights. Veran said it is still requested in hospitals and nursing homes.

France lifted most coronavirus restrictions in March.

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Sylvie Corbett in Paris contributed to this report.

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Follow Associated Press’s all pandemic coverage https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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