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Heathrow, Virgin, BA drop mask mandates

written by Isabella Richards | March 15, 2022

British Airways Boeing 747, registration G-CIVW, arriving at Dunsfold Park in Surrey. (SurreyLive/Grahame Larter)

Mask mandates are set to be dropped for people travelling to certain destinations in the United Kingdom this week as remaining restrictions continue to be lifted across the nation.

For the first time in two years, Heathrow Airport announced on Monday that masks will not be mandatory anymore from 16 March, and Virgin Atlantic and British Airways also welcomed the news.

While this is a major move for the aviation industry, there are mixed responses from customers, seeing Twitter users argue over whether it is a safe decision or not.

“We have worked hard to keep our passengers and colleagues safe during the pandemic. We acted quickly to institute face coverings as one of our first lines of defence, and we’re pleased that we’re now able to move away from a mandatory requirement as society learns to live with COVID longer term,” said Heathrow’s COO Emma Gilthorpe.

The move will come into effect on Wednesday and masks will no longer be mandatory in Heathrow terminals, rail stations and office buildings.

Gilthorpe said that while it will no longer be enforced, the airport does encourage customers to continue wearing masks, especially when coming into close contact with other passengers.

Virgin and British Airways’ decision to follow suit is on the grounds of the UK’s “Living with COVID” strategy, announced by the government earlier this year.

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Now, those who test positive for COVID-19 are not required to self-isolate but are encouraged to stay home and limit contact with others. Masks are also no longer legally required in most places.

The UK was the first nation to strip away drastic COVID-19 mitigation measures, and despite increasing cases, deaths and hospitalisations continue to decline.

Corneel Koster, Virgin’s chief customer and operating officer, said the lifted ban will only apply on routes where international regulations around mask wearing are not enforced.

Koster said the policy will be introduced gradually, beginning with the Caribbean services from Heathrow and Manchester airports.

A similar comment was made by BA’s COO Jason Mahoney.

But customers of the airport and airlines have different opinions on the matter.

One said “this is extremely disappointing and irresponsible” on Twitter, questioning whether customers can be guaranteed that staff and security will still wear masks.

Another said, “just because [Boris] Johnson tells you can, doesn’t mean you should. Especially considering how many hundreds of thousands are passing through daily. It’s just an accident waiting to happen”.

However, an overwhelming number of customers said the decision was “excellent news”, and some even said they are waiting for even more airlines to drop the ban before travelling again.

Meanwhile, mask freedoms in the United States continue to delay after months of pushed back dates.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced the federal mask mandate would continue until 18 April. This was originally expected to end on September 2021, and every month since then.

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