US CDC says travelers should still wear masks on airplanes

In this April 23, 2020 file photo, a sign is seen by the entrance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. (TAMI CHAPPELL / AFP)

GENEVA / LOS ANGELES / BERLIN / SUVA / WASHINGTON- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended travelers continue to wear masks in airplanes, trains and airports despite a judge's April 18 order declaring the 14-month-old transportation mask mandate unlawful.

The US mask mandate had been due to expire on Tuesday just before midnight unless the CDC sought an extension of a Transportation Security Administration directive

The CDC said it based its recommendation on current COVID-19 conditions and spread as well as the protective value of masks.

The Justice Department last month filed notice it will appeal the ruling and it has until May 31 to do so. But the government has made no effort to seek immediate court action to reinstate the mandate.

The mask mandate had been due to expire on Tuesday just before midnight unless the CDC sought an extension of a Transportation Security Administration directive.

A CDC spokeswoman said, "As a result of a court order, the mask order is no longer in effect and is not being enforced."

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg cast doubt on the idea that the administration wanted to reimpose the mask mandate.

"The appeal concerns whether the CDC has the authority to (require masks) in this pandemic or in any pandemic, which is completely distinct from whether a mask mandate ought to be applied any given day," Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said he agreed that based on conditions on April 13 when the mandate was extended for 15 days that it should have been allowed to expire but said it was a CDC decision.

Hours after the April 18 ruling, the Biden administration said it would no longer enforce the mask mandate, which prompted airlines to let passengers end wearing masks mid-flight. Passengers report now that on some flights 10 percent or fewer air travelers are wearing masks.

Meanwhile, almost 13 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to the latest report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

Over 149,000 of these cases were added in the past 4 weeks. Over 5 million reported cases were added in 2022, according to the report published late Monday.

Children represented 19 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the country, the report showed.

Over 53,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported in the week ending April 28, an increase of over 60 percent from two weeks ago.

Mexico 

Mexico is preparing to address the prospect of more migrants crossing the country once the United States lifts immigration restrictions put in place in response to the pandemic, Mexico's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden's administration said in April it planned to end the public health order known as Title 42, which allows the expulsion of migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19, on May 23, although a federal judge recently blocked the plan from proceeding.

Mozambique

Mozambique has strengthened the health protocol against COVID-19 at its main border crossings with South Africa due to the recent rise in infections in the neighboring country, the health authorities announced Tuesday.

Health teams are positioned at the crossings to verify the results of COVID-19 tests and ensure compliance with the preventive measures among travelers entering Mozambique, said the Director of Health in Maputo Province Yolanda Santos who spoke to the press in Maputo, the Mozambican capital.

World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala opens the 2021 WTO Public Forum with a round table on COVID-19 and trade, in Geneva, on Sept 28, 2021. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

WTO

The four main parties to negotiations on an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines have prepared an "outcome document" for approval by the broader membership, the WTO said on Tuesday, with its chief hoping for a final deal by June.

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has made vaccine equity her top priority since taking office in 2021, has been working for months to broker a compromise between the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa to break an 18-month-long impasse.

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"What the discussions were aiming at was coming up with something workable," Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters, saying she hoped the WTO's 164 members would finalize and approve the proposal by a major conference in June. "This will advance the discussion and dialogue. For the next pandemic or a flare up of this one, this is hugely important," she said.

The document showed that there were still unresolved areas in the draft deal, including on the duration of the waiver's application which could be either three or five years.