The British healthcare and testing company that provides rapid PCR testing for airline passengers at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, in partnership with Test Assurance Group (TAG) and Liverpool John Lennon Airport, has today warned that a ‘no mask’ policy for air travel could ignite a ‘set-back’ for the airline and travel industry to the start of the pandemic.
Salutaris People warned that it was too early for airline passengers to be able to travel mask-free while the UK was still at the height of its vaccination programme, with a further 23 million people still not vaccinated. It added that the airlines and governments were ‘setting a very dangerous precedent by allowing passengers not to wear masks for air travel’.
It is well documented that the initial spread of COVID-19 from an epidemic to a global pandemic was fuelled by international air travel, with the virus mutating and infecting a large number of people in close proximity on aircraft and then spreading exponentially.
Ben Paglia MD of AKEA Life, the clinical testing partner to Salutaris People, said: ‘Until we have a UK and global programme of vaccination in full flow, whereby a person has had two doses of a vaccination, then airline passengers should be advised to wear a mask during their transit and flight. It is a very dangerous and reckless precedent to allow a plane full of passengers to travel without face masks or coverings.
‘Despite the amazing success of the vaccine, we do know that you can still catch Covid and infect other people. As there are still around 23 million people in the UK to be vaccinated, this presents a continued major health problem in the UK, as it affects the younger population. We also don’t know the longer-term effectiveness of the vaccines yet and how long vaccine immunity could provide protection for. Allowing passengers to travel without wearing masks could potentially set us back to the start of the pandemic when all air travel was banned.
‘It would be sensible to allow people to not wear face masks in certain settings, but where you have public transport and air travel, or confined spaces and large gatherings it is wise to help reduce infections and transmission of the virus.’
Covid infections continue to rise on a daily basis along with increased hospital admissions, as 27, 334 people tested positive for Covid on Monday of this week (5th July). The Delta variant continues to dominate infection rates, with infections doubling in cities and counties across the UK. Newcastle Upon Tyne, Dundee, Suffolk and Essex have all reported significant increases in their infection rates. It is predicted that infection rates could increase to as much as 50,000 by the 19th July.
The concern is that if all airline passengers are allowed to travel mask-free then there is the very real possibility that infection rates could accelerate and reverse all of the preventative measures put in place by the Government – and effectively lead to another shutdown on international air travel.
Salutaris People advocates that the safest way to continue lifting of restrictions is to increase the vaccine rollout, increase PCR testing, continue to maintain face masks on public transport, air travel, in confined spaces and in large-scale gatherings.
Dr Brendan Payne, Consultant Virologist & Infectious Diseases Physician to AKEA Life, said: ‘I think the ‘personal choice’ concept of wearing a face mask makes no sense from a public health perspective. Standard face masks mainly protect other people from the wearer, rather than the wearer from other people. Therefore, you are actually asking that people make a personal choice on behalf of other people.
‘I certainly think it is wise for airline passengers to continue wearing masks for air travel for the foreseeable future until we have a fully effective global vaccination programme covered. Not only would this be for their own safety and peace of mind, but also for being considerate to other passengers. When you have several hundred people on an aircraft, closely seated in confined spaces, some of whom have been vaccinated and others not, it is entirely sensible to maintain a cautious approach by wearing masks.
‘Personally, I would have liked to see guidance from the UK Government that at least you continue to wear a mask until you’ve had two doses of vaccine. This is similar to what the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) are stating in the US. It is impossible to enforce, but would have been a sensible message.’
Salutaris People is on the UK Government’s approved list of Covid-19 test providers. The company will have five testing clinics operating by early August as air travel restrictions are lifted under the traffic light system. Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Wilmslow in Cheshire are operational, while Newcastle Upon Tyne, Stockton-On-Tees and Sunderlan
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