When the European Union announced wearing face masks would no longer be recommended on flights from May 16, many hoped all nations within the bloc would fall in line and promptly lift the requirement. While most followed the EU directive, that has not been the case with Spain and Italy, two countries that will be keeping the mandate in place for longer.
Having faced a devastating outbreak earlier in the pandemic, and famously become the first European nation to be overwhelmed by cases, Italy has grown increasingly cautious in managing the crisis.
Throughout most of 2020 and 2021, it kept travel bans in place for several nationalities, while resorting to other measures like lockdowns and health passes, which kept most visitors out.
Spain is no different, having recently refused to join the ranks of European countries fully scrapping all entry requirements for foreign tourists ahead of summer.
Even though most draconian restrictions have since been rescinded, both countries' more conservative stance on face masks is not changing anytime soon:
Face Masks Still Needed On Flights, Public Transport In Spain And Italy After May 16
After the EU issued a new directive encouraging participating countries to remove face masks on flights and all other forms of public transport starting May 16, the Italian Government was quick to reiterate the mandate will remain in place across Italy for much longer, or until June 15th.
Similarly, Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias confirmed Spain will not be scrapping masks on flights after this week. In justifying Spain's decision to extend the requirement, Darias suggested measures should be eased more gradually and that Spain will ‘advance with caution and proportionality', as it has until now.
Very much like Italy, Spain has rolled back most restrictions in recent months, though relaxation efforts have mostly benefited vaccinated travelers. For now, unvaccinated visitors still face stricter rules when flying to both Italy and Spain, and the two Mediterranean nations have been known to align on Covid strategies.
Even though masks have no longer been required in most indoor spaces across Spain since April, Darias has asserted that masks in this context, namely flights and public transport, remain mandatory. Italian health authorities share the same view, further isolating both countries from what is becoming a much less rigid EU.
EU Recommendation On Face Masks Inflight Is In Fact Nonbinding
While the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) both agree it is now time to lift the mask requirement, this is a nonbinding decision.
The European Union as a whole may favor a harmonization of rules, but national regulations still take precedence over EU-wide recommendations.
For that reason, the two destinations in question have been able to extend the mask mandates, even though others like France swiftly followed the advice and eliminated mask usage on flights. Despite having been effectively shunned by the Mediterranean nations, the EASA/ECDC have defended their right to assess their own health risks.
In a joint statement, they reiterated ‘wearing face masks at airports and inflight should be aligned with national measures on wearing masks in public transport and transport hubs'. For now, Spain and Italy have chosen to prolong the mask requirement on public transport, thus being supported by the EASA/ECDC in keeping the mandate in place for air travelers.
A New Patchwork Of Mask Rules In The EU?
As the EASA and ECDC quoted in their statement, ‘if either the departure or destination States require the wearing of face masks on public transport, aircraft operators should require passengers and crew to comply with those requirements inflight, beyond 16 May 2022‘.
The measure could lead to more confusion in the upcoming weeks, as different EU countries may either choose to follow France's lead, or Italy and Spain's. Adding to the complexity of it all, in order for passengers to indeed be able to remove masks, the requirement must have been lifted on both the departure country and their destination country.
For example, although France no longer requires masks inflight as of May 16, those flying from Paris to Madrid – or any other destination in Spain – will still need to wear face coverings. There may be other stricter mask requirements in place in specific destinations, including Italy, where only higher-grade FFP2 masks are accepted.
Additionally, they will remain mandatory in cinemas, theaters, and several other indoor venues until at least June 15th. In sum, travelers should continue double-checking local mask requirements for individual EU countries.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
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