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COVID: EU drops air travel face mask mandate

The masks were introduced to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, but will no longer be mandatory in airports and on flights to Europe from next week onwards.

Passengers with facemasks boarding a plane

Masks have been mandatory on flights in the EU for two years

Face masks will not have to be worn in airports and on flights in Europe, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Wednesday.

The easing of the measure will be effective as of May 16. However, authorities stressed masks were still the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"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," the EASA said in a statement.

What EU authorities said about masks and air travel

"It is a relief to all of us that we are finally reaching a stage in the pandemic where we can start to relax the health safety measures," EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said. "For many passengers, and also aircrew members, there is a strong desire for masks to no longer be a mandatory part of air travel. We are now at the start of that process."

Italy, France, Bulgaria and other European countries already been easing or ending their COVID measures.

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In April, several US airlines said face masks were no longer necessary on board after a federal judge in Florida ruled that the mandate on public transport was unlawful.

"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," ECDC Director Andrea Ammon cautioned.

From next week, face mask rules are expected to vary, with the ECDC recommending airlines encourage passengers to use mouth coverings on flights to or from destinations where wearing a mask on public transport is still required.

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Edited by: Rob Turner

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