Canada not ready to waive mandatory masking in flight: Transport Minister

Avatar for Ken PoleBy Ken Pole | May 12, 2022

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 28 seconds.

The Canadian government evidently isn’t ready to waive mandatory masking against coronavirus any time soon, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra signalled May 11.

He was responding to questions on Parliament Hill about an announcement by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) earlier in the day that they were dropping their “recommendation” that masks should be required in flight effective May 16.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra emphasized that masks “are proven to have a meaningful impact on reducing transmission.” Anthony Saiters Photo

However, they said in their updated joint Aviation Health Safety Protocol (AHSP) that masking rules would continue to vary by carrier. “Flights to or from a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport should continue to encourage mask wearing,” they said.

Asked specifically whether Canada would follow suit, Alghabra was characteristically matter-of-fact. “Canada should do what Canada’s been doing all along: following science and the advice of public health experts,” he replied. “It’s not the first time that different countries make different policy decisions based on the science that they have. We will continue.”

He said department officials had recently briefed him on “the science of masks” which he agreed “are proven to have a meaningful impact on reducing transmission. He also said that “they’re the least invasive or intrusive tool that passengers can use, so for now masks are required on planes.”

Canadian carriers’ approach to masking insofar as it applies to cross-border service was complicated April 18 when the U.S. government’s January 2021 masking mandate was struck down by a judge in Florida.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2020 but considers herself “nonpartisan,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded their legal authority in issuing the mandate. 

Social media reported that when Mizelle’s ruling was announced on some aircraft mid-flight, some passengers applauded and removed their masks, prompting the Association of Flight Attendants to call for “calm and consistency” in airports as well as on aircraft to avoid “confusion and chaos.”

Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association, said passengers could travel with confidence knowing that many features of an aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it “one of the safest indoor environments.”

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