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European Airlines Are Easing Mask Requirements as COVID Cases Rise

Cases are rising in Europe again, does that mean it will happen in the U.S. too?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrapped all COVID restrictions in England last month and declared that the country will live with the virus. Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Austria have also eased restrictions to bring normalcy back to the European region.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has requested E.U. countries to drop COVID-19 restrictions on air travel including proof of vaccination, Passenger Locator Form, and masking. Some countries have started lifting mandates.

British Carriers Are Relaxing Requirements 

Regional carrier Jet2 became the first airline in the U.K. to scrap mask mandates on flights and at airports in England and Northern Ireland. TUI Airways followed suit and now aviation giants British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have also updated their mask policies. Meanwhile, face coverings may be scrapped on Ryanair flights by the end of April.

British Airways announced that from March 16, passengers don’t need to wear a mask if the destination doesn’t require it. It also requested passengers to respect their fellow passengers’ choices.

Virgin Atlantic, in a statement explaining the change, stated, “on certain routes, from Wednesday 16 March it will be customers’ personal choice to wear a face mask.” Mask rules will apply when the destination requires it (like the U.S.), but it will be optional to cover up on routes to or from Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica, Grenada, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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This coincided with the decision made by the U.K.’s largest airport, Heathrow, to drop mask requirements. However, it still recommends that passengers wear them. 

But the U.K. isn’t alone. Four Scandinavian airlines—SAS, Norwegian, Fly, and Wideroe—lifted in-flight mask mandates between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark back in October. Passengers are still required to cover up at airports that mandate it, as well as when flying to other European countries.

What About the U.S.?

People have been divided on the issue of mask mandates ever since countries, airlines, and businesses started imposing them. In the U.S., airlines have reported an increase in aggressive behavior on board due to face coverings and passengers are facing penalties and prosecution for disrupting flights. Although the CDC recently changed its guidelines for face coverings and states and schools have dropped requirements, the federal transportation mask mandate is still in place. 

Passengers are required to cover up while traveling on public transport (flights, buses, and trains). It was set to expire on March 18 and was extended for another month, a decision that hasn’t gone down well. 

This week, the Senate passed a resolution to end this federal mask mandate on public transportation. The resolution will now go to the House. Republicans have been opposing masks since the beginning of the pandemic and it has become a major bone of contention between parties.

Mask Rules Are Ending but COVID-19 Isn’t

The U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, France, and Italy are reporting another surge in cases. Not just Europe, China is also reinstating lockdowns in its cities as it deals with a new spike and healthcare facilities in Hong Kong are overwhelmed by hospitalizations. In contrast, the U.S. continues to see a downward trend in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The spread of Omicron subvariant BA.2, waning immunity, and relaxation of policies are thought to be the reasons for the rise in cases in European countries. 

Experts are asking nations to remain vigilant because this new wave in Europe indicates the pandemic is not over yet. ABC News quoted Dr. Sam Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation, as saying, “Since the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, what’s happened in Europe has happened around the globe. We can’t afford to sit around and let this early warning from Europe again go unheeded.”

gbpsf63 March 16, 2022

It is time to treat these new variants like a seasonal flu. We never used to mask for those yearly strains. Our bodies need to learn to fight those strains again, as they have done forever. Masks do not allow for this. That is how we get stronger. I am off to Europe next week and hope another panic doesn't ensue before, during or after my trip. There are far more rotten things in the world to fear than a few sniffles.