Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased
Health measures are set to be eased for air travel in Europe. (Photo: Eric Piermont / AFP)

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“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,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“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.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“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.”

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EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

The international health emergency due to Covid-19 has been over for months. However, with cases increasing again in Germany, and new virus variants emerging, health experts are recommending some people to get a booster jab.

EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

What’s going on?

Covid infection rates are on the rise in Germany. As of September 15th, the 7-day incidence (the number of new infections per 100,000 people in seven days) was at 9. Exact infection figures are hard to obtain, however, given the low number of tests currently being carried out. 

What we do know is that there are two main variants currently circulating. Firstly, there is Eris (EG.5), a descendant of the Omicron variant. 

Secondly, there is the new Pirola variant (BA.2.86), which is more mutated from the Omicron variant, and has already appeared in various countries and was first detected in Germany in mid-September.

Which vaccinations are now on offer?

The latest available vaccine produced by Pfizer/Biontech has been adapted to the Omicron sub-variant XBB.1.5, which is very similar to the new Eris variant EG.5. 

As of Monday, the vaccine for people aged twelve and above will first be available in doctors’ practices.

READ ALSO: German doctors urge Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant

According to the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, the adapted vaccine for young children is expected to be delivered starting September 25th, and the vaccine for children between the ages of five and eleven will be available from October 2nd.

When is it advisable to get vaccinated?

According to the Standing Vaccination Committee (Stiko), those aged 60 and above, residents in care facilities, people with underlying health conditions, healthcare workers, and relatives of high-risk patients are recommended to get the new vaccination. Typically, twelve months should have elapsed since the last vaccination or infection.

Where can I get vaccinated?

The distribution of Covid vaccinations moved from pandemic crisis mode to regular care in medical practices about six months ago, which means that now, they are primarily available through your general practitioner or Hausarzt.

The entitlement to free vaccinations is based on Stiko recommendations and, in federal states where compensation for Covid vaccination has not yet been regulated, patients will initially receive a private bill for their booster jabs.

They can then submit this bill to their health insurer for reimbursement. The amount that patients may need to pay upfront could be around €35.

Could there be another big wave of infections in autumn and winter?

It’s difficult to say whether there will be more waves of infections in the coming months, as it depends on whether a variant emerges that can evade the immune system.

The good news is that experts still see a very broad baseline immunity from vaccinations and infections in Germany, though people can still get infected. It is expected, though, that generally healthy people will not become as severely ill, requiring hospitalisation or intensive care.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister recommends new Covid jab as infections increase

However, Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also recently emphasised, “Covid-19 is not a common cold.” Infections carry the risk of Long Covid. Healthcare professionals anticipate stress in the healthcare system due to staff shortages and seasonal waves of other pathogens.”

Should we start wearing masks again?

While mask-wearing is not mandatory and is unlikely to be put in place again in public areas, wearing a FFP2 mask can be a sensible protective measure for people with weaker immune systems. However, experts do believe that a renewed mask mandate in hospitals and care facilities could be implemented if case numbers rise.

If you do get infected and want to protect yourself and others, it’s recommended to stay at home for three to five days, reduce contacts, cough or sneeze into your elbow, and wash your hands regularly.