European Disability Rights Strategy 2021 – 2030: European Parliament’s Disability Intergroup event
5 April 2021
On the 11th of February EUD followed the European Parliament’s plenary session on the use, safety and distribution of transparent masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The session was opened by the European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen who acknowledged that many deaf and hard of hearing people rely on visual communication through sign languages and being able to see the lips and facial expressions is therefore crucial.
The Commissioner continued explaining that the recommendations issued by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control as well as by the World Health Organisation are EU’s trusted scientific references and the rules regarding the design, testing and placing on the market surgical and protective masks are laid down at EU level, respectively, by the directives and regulations on medical devices and by the regulation of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Existing rules on medical devices as well as the PPE legislation are technologically neutral, which means that they don't prescribe specific technical solutions for the products. Any design, any choice of materials or components is acceptable as long as the entire mask complies with the defined performance requirements and ensures an adequate level of protection, according to the intended use defined by the manufacturer.
It was explained that the EU rules on PPE and on medical devices are sufficiently flexible to accommodate face masks of any design and materials, including transparent face masks, as long as they meet the same performance requirements as the more widely used non-transparent masks. The Commissioner highlighted that all the relevant actors, manufacturers, standardisation and testing bodies, Member States and the Commission should work in close cooperation to ensure that face masks continue to be a useful and safe tool in the fight against a Covid-19 virus.
During the plenary session a number of the Members of the European Parliament expressed their opinion regarding the use of transparent masks. EUD would like to thank the office of the MEP Katrin Langensiepen for consulting with EUD prior to the discussion and highlighting that safety is a key priority for everyone and when searching for alternatives to overcome the communication barriers safety concerns of the alternatives such as transparent masks or face shields must remain the top priority.
EUD encourages the EU and especially the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control play more actively a leading role to research the matter and collect EU-wide scientific evidence which would clearly establish guidelines for all Member States whether the transparent masks or face shields are as effective as cloth or fiber face masks when reducing COVID-19 transmission and provide with equivalent and equal protection.
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