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COVID-19

EU could see Covid-19 vaccinations rolled out ‘first quarter next year’

The head of the EU health agency has said that its first vaccinations against Covid-19 could get under way in the first quarter of 2021 – in an optimistic scenario.

EU could see Covid-19 vaccinations rolled out 'first quarter next year'
Researchers around the world have been working on finding a vaccine. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

“I think optimistically first quarter next year, but I can't be more precise,” Andrea Ammon, the director of the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), told AFP on Wednesday.

A European source told AFP on Tuesday that a vaccine could be authorised for use in the EU in “early 2021”, after the announcement that US pharmaceutical group Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech's vaccine had shown 90 percent effectiveness in phase three trials.

“Of course it's promising,” said Ammon, stressing that so far it is a “press release and not yet a (scientific) peer review, so we have to see what the final assessment will be”.

Ammon said the pandemic's development in Europe was “very, very concerning” and all indicators “are going in the wrong direction right now”.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Europe has suffered at least 311,000 deaths from more than 13 million infections, and many countries have been hit by a second wave.

Ammon urged Europeans to respect their countries' restrictions and measures to curb the spread of the virus, “as hard as it may be”.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that 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.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“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.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “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.”

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