US authorities to drop face mask requirement for aircraft, trains and buses

Moves follows ruling by Florida judge that mask rules unlawful

Authorities in the United States will no longer enforce the wearing of face masks on aircraft, trains and buses to protect against Covid-19.

The move follows a ruling by a judge in Florida who struck down the federal transportation mask requirement as unlawful.

However, health authorities are continuing to urge passengers to wear face masks in indoor public transport settings.

US district judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida on Monday vacated the mask requirement nationwide across America and directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reverse the policy which had been put in place in February 2021 shortly after the Biden administration took office.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed last year by the Health Freedom Defense Fund, a non-profit group that says it focuses on "bodily autonomy" as a human right.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the mask requirements on public transport until early May.

Reviewing the decision

However, in a statement on Monday evening following the Florida court ruling, an administration official said federal agencies were reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps.

In the meantime, the court decision means Centers for Disease Control’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.

"Therefore, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not enforce its security directives and emergency amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the judge's ruling "a disappointing decision" and said "we're continuing to recommend that people wear masks" while the administration considers its legal options.

Judge Mizelle in her ruling in Florida found for the plaintiffs on three key issues, ruling that the Centers for Disease Control had exceeded its legal authority, that it had improperly avoided notice and comment procedures, and that its mandate was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Eased restrictions

The Florida court ruling came as states across the US . have eased restrictions following an overall drop in case numbers from a January peak caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

However, in Philadelphia an indoor mask requirement has been reintroduced following a rise in cases linked to the BA.2 sub-variant of Covid-19. A number of businesses and individuals are seeking to challenge this order in court.

Almost one million Americans have died of Covid in the past two years, and hundreds more continue to die every day.