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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have issued a joint statement saying that the recommendation for mandatory wearing of medical masks in airports and on board a flight will be dropped as from Monday 16th May.

The update of the joint Aviation Health Safety Protocol 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.

“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,” said EASA executive director Patrick Ky.

Asked about mask-wearing on planes on The Times of Malta’s Ask Charmaine online series, Malta’s Superintendent for Public Health Charmain Gauci said the situation needs to be assessed.

“Many countries have this, that masks are obligatory on planes, so this is something which follows the ECDC criteria.”

Her comments came shortly after the ECDC issued the update, so it remains unclear if Malta will follow suit.

Malta has veered from European policy before, with the European Commission slamming a proposed ban on unvaccinated travellers as “discriminatory”, although this was changed hours before coming into force in the face of pressure.

On the other hand, Malta only started accepting incoming visitors’ negative PCR tests and recovery certificates last month, despite these being part of the EU’s Green Passport initiative.

ECDC director Andrea Ammon meanwhile noted that, “While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal.”

This update does not mean that passengers no longer need to wear masks, but rather allows airlines the flexibility to decide on a case by case basis.

For example, flights to or from a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport should continue to encourage mask wearing, according to the recommendations.

The updates recommendations to airports also urge operators to avoid imposing distancing requirements “if these will very likely lead to a bottleneck”.

Additionally, although the need for passenger locator forms has been previosly dropped, airlines were told to 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.

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