The World Forum - July 24th, 2024

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WHO backs mask-wearing on long flights given rapid US spread of Omicron variant


Countries should consider recommending passengers wear masks on long haul flights to counter the latest Omicron subvariant of COVID-19 given its rapid spread in the United States, World Health Organisation officials said on Tuesday.

In Europe, the XBB.1.5 subvariant is being detected in small but growing numbers, WHO/Europe officials said in a press briefing.

Passengers should be recommended to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul flights, said WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, adding “this should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread COVID-19 transmission.”

The XBB.1.5 subvariant – the most transmissible Omicron sub-variant that has been detected so far – accounted for 27.6% of COVID-19 cases in the United States for the week ending Jan. 7, U.S. health officials have said.

It remains unclear if XBB.1.5 will cause its own wave of infections around the world. Current vaccines continue to protect against severe symptoms, hospitalization and death, experts say.

If travel measures are considered, she said, “our opinion is that travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.”