Facemask and social-distancing rules can be 'relaxed' for fully vaccinated people

Facemask and social-distancing rules can be 'relaxed' for fully vaccinated people

A new ECDC report explored possible adjustments of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), based on an assessment of risk for those fully vaccinated against coronavirus to become infected and develop severe Covid-19. File Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fully vaccinated individuals may no longer need to social-distance or wear facemasks when meeting each other, according to new interim guidance from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

A new ECDC report explores possible adjustments of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) - like the wearing of facemasks and social-distancing - based on an assessment of risk for those fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

The report, titled: 'Interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination against Covid-19 for transmission and implications for non-pharmaceutical interventions' provides EU member states with a number of scenarios in which NPI rules can be relaxed or waived completely in meetings between two individuals, households, or social bubbles.

The ECDC says that in situations where fully vaccinated individuals meet, even if they are older adults, such NPIs can be relaxed.

The same guidance applies to situations where fully-vaccinated young and middle-aged adults meet unvaccinated people, so as long as no one present has a risk factor for severe disease.

The report also says that requirements for testing and quarantine for travel could be waived or adjusted for those who have received all their Covid jabs. 

However, the ECDC says that, given the current epidemiological context in the EU, "in large gatherings in public spaces, including during travel, NPIs should be maintained irrespective of the vaccination status of the individuals."

ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said the new guidance was able to be issued now that vaccine rollouts were advancing across Europe.

"It is encouraging to have evidence-based recommendations that immunisation can slowly allow relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions such use of masks and physical distancing," she said.

While relaxation of the protection measures must be done gradually and based on careful assessments of the risks involved, we are confident that increased vaccination coverage will have a positive and direct impact towards returning to normal lives 

At present, the ECDC recommends that NPIs be kept in place during meetings between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons if any of them are older adults or individuals at increased risk for severe Covid-19, or where there is a high circulation of variants of concern with the potential for immune escape.

"Public health authorities may consider exempting fully vaccinated individuals from repeat testing in occupational and other community settings," the report notes.

It also states that rapid and effective deployment of vaccines is "essential to reduce the number of susceptible individuals, hospitalisations, deaths and the viral circulation of Covid-19 in the community" and that as vaccine rollouts pick up the pace, stronger relaxation of measures for fully vaccinated individuals may be permitted. 

The ECDC says it will continue to gather and analyse evidence on vaccine effectiveness in order to revise its guidance accordingly.

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