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EU lifts mask requirement for air travel as pandemic ebbs

A passenger wearing a face mask waits for his flight at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany (Martin Meissner/AP)
A passenger wearing a face mask waits for his flight at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany (Martin Meissner/AP)

The European Union will no longer require masks to be worn at airports and on planes starting next week amid the easing of coronavirus restrictions across the bloc, authorities said.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it hoped the joint decision, made with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, would mark “a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel” for passengers and crews.

The new 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.

“Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said.

“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 May 16, rules for masks may still vary by airline beyond that date if they fly to or from destinations where the rules are different.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control 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 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 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.

The German government said on Wednesday that it was disbanding a crisis task force appointed to lead the official response.

A passenger on a plane wears a mask
The requirement to wear masks on planes has been in place for about two years (John Minchillo/AP)

The French government announced separately on Wednesday that people will no longer have to wear face masks on any forms of public transport starting from Monday.

Health minister Olivier Veran, speaking after a cabinet meeting, said the decision is part of policies to lift most restrictions as the pandemic is slowing down in the country.

French authorities reported this week about 39,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 each day on average, down by 30% compared with last week.

The numbers of patients in hospitals have also been steadily decreasing in recent weeks.

Wearing face masks will no longer be needed for metros, buses, trains and domestic flights.

It is still to be requested in hospitals and nursing homes, Mr Veran said.

France lifted most coronavirus restrictions in March.