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The European Union will no longer require face masks to be worn at airports or on planes starting next week amid the easing of Coronavirus restrictions across the bloc, authorities said Wednesday.
In Spain, however, Health Minister Carolina Darias has said that face mask rules for passengers on board planes and other means of public transport will remain the same and are unlikely to change in the coming days [also see below].
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it hoped that its joint decision, made with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), would mark ‘a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel’ for passengers and crews.
The new EU guideline ‘takes account of the latest developments in the pandemic, in particular the levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity, and the accompanying lifting of restrictions in a growing number of European countries,’ the two agencies said in a joint statement.
‘From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,’ said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky. ‘For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.’
While the new recommendations take effect on 16 May, rules for face masks may still vary by airline beyond that date if they fly to or from destinations where the rules are different.
ECDC director Andrea Ammon said washing hands and social distancing should still be practised, but airport operators are advised not to impose distancing requirements if these are likely to lead to a bottleneck.
‘The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner,’ Ammon said. ‘The importance of these measures should continue to be effectively communicated to passengers for their safety, and ECDC will continue to work with our colleagues at EASA to regularly assess and amend the recommendations as necessary.’
The agencies also recommended that airlines keep systems for collecting passenger locator information on standby in case they are needed in future, for example if a new dangerous variant emerges.
The requirement to wear face masks on planes has been in place for about two years. The decline in reported Covid-19 cases over the past weeks has prompted countries across Europe to roll back pandemic-related restrictions.
In Spain, Health Minister Darias said, ‘Europe says that the use of the mask on flights must be aligned with national regulations and in Spain we only recently decided that in this context it remains mandatory’ – in reference to the Spanish government finally relaxing the compulsory use of face masks in most indoor settings after almost two years (specifically 700 days) from Wednesday 20 April – but not on public transport. ALSO READ: Spain finally ends compulsory use of face masks in most indoor settings.
‘All the measures have to follow a process and therefore we have to advance with caution and proportionality as we have until now,’ said Darias.
Although passengers on most public transport in Spain (planes, trains, buses, taxis but not on ferries unless crowded) still have to wear a face mask, it is no longer compulsory inside airports, train stations, metro platforms or ports.
#EASA and #ECDC have taken the first steps to relax #COVID19 measures for air travelers. While the wearing of face masks will no longer be mandatory it is important to be respectful of others. The full protocol is available here:https://t.co/Oetq26Xd0g pic.twitter.com/eBAvQxIEzp— EASA (@EASA) May 11, 2022