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European Union lifts face mask requirements for flights, airports

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(NEW YORK) — Travelers will no longer be required to wear masks on European flights or in airports.

The decision was announced Wednesday by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

In a statement, the agencies said they were lifting the measure due to rising vaccination rates and natural immunity across Europe as well as several countries dropping domestic restrictions.

The new rule will go into effect May 16.

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel,” Patrick Ky, EASA executive director, said in a statement. “It is a relief to all of us that we are finally reaching a stage in the pandemic where we can start to relax the health safety measures.”

He added, “Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them.”

Despite the relaxation of the rules, the EASA and the ECDC noted that masks are still one of the best ways to protect against COVID-19 spread.

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal,” ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said in a statement. “It is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene [mask-wearing] is one of the best methods of reducing transmission.”

The statement also encouraged “vulnerable passengers,” such as those who are at high risk of severe disease because they are immunocompromised or older, to keep wearing face coverings on flights.

Even after the requirement is lifted, airlines may still require masks on their flights. The agencies also recommended airlines encourages passengers to wear masks on flights to and from countries that have mask rules in place on public transportation.

France’s government announced separately Wednesday it is lifting its requirement that people wear masks on public transportations starting Monday.

The news of the EU lifting mask restrictions comes less than a month after a federal judge struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel mask mandate for the U.S.

Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle for the Middle District of Florida wrote in her ruling that the mandate, first announced in January 2021, was “unlawful” and that the CDC exceeded its authority when the policy was implemented.

Following the ruling, every major U.S. airline made face coverings optional for passengers and staff as did ride-share companies, such as Uber and Lyft, and railroad services, including Amtrak.

ABC News’ Michelle Stoddart contributed to this report.

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