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COVID-19

EU health warning: ‘High’ risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths

The EU's health agency has warned of a 'high' risk that newly discovered coronavirus variants could increase the strain on healthcare and ultimately cause more deaths due to their infectious nature.

EU health warning: 'High' risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths
A healthcare worker cleans an ambulance outside a hospital in London. Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP

The Stockholm-based European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that “although there is no information that infections with these strains are more severe”, the fact that they would spread more easily means that the impact on “hospitalisations and deaths is assessed as high”.

Just like previously circulating virus variants, this was particularly true for “those in older age groups or with co-morbidities”, the agency added.

The report specifically addressed the two new variants discovered in the UK and in South Africa, both of which show signs of “increased transmissibility”.

More than 3,000 cases of the UK variant have already been reported in the UK and dozens of countries in Europe and around the world, according to the ECDC.

In South Africa, more than 300 cases of another variant have been recorded and three cases of the same variant have been confirmed in Europe, two in the UK and one in Finland, but all three have been connected to people returning from South Africa.

The health agency recommended countries to continue advising citizens “of the need for non-pharmaceutical interventions in accordance with their local epidemiological situation” with a particular focus on “non-essential travel and social activities”.

The ECDC also recommended a number of options for “delaying the introduction and further spread of a new variant of concern”, including targeted sequencing of community cases to “detect early and monitor the incidence of the variant”.

In addition it recommended increased “follow-up and testing” of people linked to areas with higher numbers of the variant and also remind people coming from such areas of the need to “comply with quarantine” and getting tested.

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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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