World Health Organization (WHO) officials has urged countries to bring back the mask mandate for air passengers on longhaul flights, given the rapid spread of the latest Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant in the US.
XBB.1.5, found to be the most transmissible Omicron subvariant detected so far, accounted for 27.6 per cent of Covid-19 cases in the US for the week ended January 7, health officials have said.
In Europe, the subvariant has been detected in small but growing numbers.
WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, said mask-wearing “should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread Covid-19 transmission”.
She added that “countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing” and that travel measures, if any, “should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner”.
At a press conference on January 10, Smallwood said WHO is not yet recommending Covid-19 tests for passengers from the US.
At press time, mask mandates vary across airlines around the world.
In Asia-Pacific, Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore Airlines do not require passengers onboard to wear masks, unless required by the destination they are flying to and from.
Masks are not compulsory on ANA flights.