WHO Tells Travelers to Wear Masks on Long Flights Due to Covid

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended on Tuesday that travelers should be advised to wear masks on long flights to protect themselves from Covid-19 and counter the spread of new variants.

The WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, pointed out that this recommendation should be issued to all passengers arriving from any place with widespread Covid-19 transmission.

She also noted that countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing, adding that any measure that might be considered should be introduced in a non-discriminatory manner, without focusing exclusively on one particular geographic area.

The new spate of cases in the US and Europe has been fueled by the latest Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, whereas Covid numbers in China continue to climb after the country largely lifted the travel and other restrictions.

Though experts claim that current Covid-19 vaccines continue to protect people against severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death, it remains unclear if XBB.1.5 will cause its own wave of infections around the world.

US health officials have said that XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible Omicron subvariant detected so far and accounted for 27.6% of Covid-19 cases in the United States for the week ending on January 7.

As cases of the subvariant are also being picked up in small but growing numbers in Europe, Smallwood said that a panel of experts is studying whether the XBB.1.5 strain should be called a variant of concern.

The WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, emphasized at a briefing in Copenhagen that the threat could come from a new variant of concern anywhere and at any time, urging European countries to increase their monitoring.

He said that in order to deal with the pandemic in its fourth year, the health agency needs detailed and regular information, including from China.

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