Face masks will no longer be mandatory on flights within the EU though the majority of countries will still require them.
A joint statement by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has decided that air travel should fall into line with other forms of public transport in getting rid of face masks.
In a statement, the organisations said they were “dropping the recommendation for mandatory wearing of medical masks in airports and on board a flight, while noting that a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of Covid-19”.
They said this “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”.
ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said that even though wearing masks would not be mandatory “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 lifting of restrictions will come into force next Monday. However, 15 European countries, among them the most popular destinations for Irish travellers, still require masks on public transport and passengers flying to and from those countries will still have to wear masks on flights.
The countries in question are Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Ryanair chief executive Eddie Wilson said he expected those countries to relax their face mask rules over the coming days to come into line with the rest of Europe.
Aer Lingus has told passengers it was aware of the new aviation protocol and would update its information once it sought further clarification from the Irish and other European governments.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said it excepted national guidance on mask wearing on board aircraft would now be revised because of the new protocol and “it is expected that consultation with stakeholders on the matter will be concluded this week”.
Mask wearing is no longer mandatory in airports across the EU although Dublin and Cork airports still advise that passengers wear them.
Latest HSE advice is to wear a medical or respirator mask if you are at higher risk from Covid-19 in indoor or outdoor crowded places, if you are visiting a healthcare setting, if you are visiting someone at higher risk of Covid-19, or if you are stopping self-isolation after seven days - the advice for the latter is to wear such a mask for 10 days in total. - Additional reporting Reuters