Home / News / World /  WHO urges travelers to wear masks as new Covid variant spreads

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said countries should consider recommending that passengers wear masks on long-haul flights, given the rapid spread of the latest Omicron subvariant of Covid-19 in the United States, according to the news agency Reuters. 

Addressing a press briefing here, the WHO and Europe officials said the XBB.1.5 subvariant was detected in small but growing numbers in Europe. 

Catherine Smallwood, WHO's senior emergency officer for Europe said, “Passengers should be advised to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul flights. This should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread Covid-19 transmission."

XBB.1.5 - the most transmissible Omicron subvariant detected so far - accounted for 27.6% of Covid-19 cases in the United States for the week ended January 7, health officials have said as quoted by Reuters. 

Experts had said that it was unclear if XBB.1.5 would cause its own wave of global infections and the current vaccines continue to protect against severe symptoms, hospitalization and death. 

"Countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing and if action is considered, travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner," Smallwood said.

Measures that could be taken include genomic surveillance, and targeting passengers from other countries as long as it does not divert resources from domestic surveillance systems. Others include monitoring wastewater around points of entry such as airports.

Concerns about XBB.1.5 fueling a fresh spate of cases in the United States and beyond are on rising amid a surge of Covid-19 cases in China, after the country pivoted away from its signature "zero Covid" policy last month.

According to data reported by the WHO earlier this month, an analysis by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed a predominance of Omicron sub lineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 among locally acquired infections, Reuters reported. 

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Tuesday issued recommendations for flights between China and the European Union including "non-pharmaceutical measures to reduce the spread of the virus, such as mask-wearing and testing of travelers, as well as monitoring of waste water as an early warning tool to detect new variants."

The agencies recommend "random testing may also be carried out on a sample of arriving passengers" and "enhanced cleaning and disinfection of aircraft serving these routes."

More than a dozen countries - including the United States - are demanding COVID tests from travelers from China.


(With Reuters inputs)

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Recommended For You
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsWatchlistFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout