People are no longer required to wear a mask on public transport in the US after a federal judge voided a national mandate, in a decision that has been described as “disappointing” by the White House.
The judge, in Tampa, Florida, ruled that the national mask mandate, which covered airlines, airports, mass transit and taxis, was unlawful.
District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) failed to justify its decision to extend the rule until 3 May and did not follow proper law making.
Soon after the change was announced, a number of major airlines switched to an optional mask policy, including Alaska Airlines and United Airlines.
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However, New York City’s public transit system said it would continue to enforce its mask requirement.
The decision was not met favourably by the White House, which had implemented the rule in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
It said the ruling meant the mask order “is not in effect at this time”.
“This is obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC is recommending wearing a mask on public transit.”
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The federal mask requirement for travellers has been the target of months of lobbying from airlines, which argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely.
Critics of the rule have argued that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, shops and other indoor settings, and yet COVID cases have fallen sharply since the Omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
The US has recorded more than 80.6 million infections and 988,800 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.