European agency relaxing mask requirement on flights from May 16 | Loop Cayman Islands

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued an update on May 11, 2022 that the requirement to wear face masks onboard flights will be generally relaxed, effective May 16, 2022.

However, wearing face masks at airports and inflight should be aligned with national measures on wearing masks in public transport and transport hubs. If either the departure or destination Member States require the wearing of face masks on public transport, aircraft operators should require passengers and crew to comply with those requirements inflight, beyond May 16, 2022.

Further, as of May 16, 2022, aircraft operators, during their pre-flight communications as well as during the flight, should continue to encourage their passengers and crew members to wear face masks during the flight as well as in the airport, even when wearing a face mask is not required.

Member States should ensure that their travel-related measures are communicated effectively, in a timely and well-coordinated manner to avoid being imposed unilaterally, which could lead to confusion in travellers and a reduction in compliance. Experience during the past two years has demonstrated that coordination and communication of measures are essential to ensure optimal implementation and de-escalation of measures.

Where States still enforce entry measures, vaccinated people and those who have recovered from COVID-19 within the previous 180 days, who are not arriving from very high-risk countries or areas with community circulation of Variants of Concern (VOCs) and who can provide evidence of that by using the Digital Covid Certificate (DCC), or for third country nationals by using similar means of certification, should not be subject to testing or quarantine. States should consider accepting vaccination certificates for vaccines approved by national authorities or the World Health Organization (WHO). In this regard the document emphasises the use of ‘one-stop’ principles and the importance of a risk-based approach in accordance with safety management system principles.

For people who are not vaccinated and/or who have not recovered from COVID-19 within the previous 180 days, a risk-based approach to entry measures should be considered based on the Council Recommendation (EU) 2022/107.

It is expected that the preventive measures recommended in the operational guidelines can be gradually scaled back over time in line with a reduction of the risk level through the roll-out of vaccination campaigns.

Regarding the relaxation of requirements, EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky reportedly said:

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,” 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. Passengers should continue to comply with the requirements of their airline and, where preventive measures are optional, make responsible decisions and respect the choice of other passengers. In particular, 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 also chimed in and said:

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. 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.

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.

Passengers are also encouraged to observe distancing measures in indoor areas, including at the airport, wherever possible. But airport operators should adopt a pragmatic approach to this: for example, they should avoid imposing distancing requirements if these will very likely lead to a bottleneck in another location in the passenger journey, especially if they are not required at national or regional level in other similar settings.

While many states no longer require passengers to submit data through a passenger locator form, airlines should keep their data collection systems on standby so they could make this information available to public health authorities if needed, for example in the case where a new variant of concern (VOC) emerged which was identified as potentially more dangerous.

ECDC and EASA are constantly monitoring the epidemiological situation and will adjust the current recommendations as appropriate.