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 Organization (WHO) officials said on
In Europe, the XBB.1.5 subvariant is being detected in small but growing
numbers, WHO/Europe officials said at a press briefing.
Passengers should be advised to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul
flights, said the 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.”
XBB.1.5 is yet another descendant of Omicron, the most contagious – and
now globally dominant – variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. It is an
offshoot of XBB, first detected in October, which is itself a recombinant of
two other Omicron subvariants.
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.
“Countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing,”
Smallwood added, saying it was crucial not to focus exclusively on one
particular geographic area.
If action is considered, she said, “our opinion is that travel measures should
be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.”
That did not mean the agency recommended testing for passengers
coming from the United States at this stage, she added.
According to data reported by the WHO earlier this month, an analysis by
the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed a
predominance of Omicron sublineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 among locally acquired infections.
Many scientists – including from the WHO – believe China is likely under-
reporting the true extent of its outbreak.
More than a dozen countries – including the United States – are demanding
COVID tests from travelers from China. (WHO news)