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TRAIN CRASH

Crash probe focuses on ‘speed freak’ driver

The focus of a probe into a horrific train derailment in northwestern Spain that killed at least 80 people turned to the injured driver who has reportedly told authorities he "messed up" and wants "to die".

Crash probe focuses on 'speed freak' driver
A fireman carries an injured girl following a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain in which at least 80 passengers died. Photo: Xoan A. Soler Monica Ferreiros

The 52-year-old driver — one of two on the train travelling between Madrid and the northern Spanish city of Ferrol — was under police surveillance in hospital after the train accident late on Wednesday.

State train company Renfe said the driver was a 30-year veteran of the firm with more than a decade of train driving experience.

The train's data recording "black box" and other documents were passed over to the judge in charge of the investigation on Thursday.

Attention has so far centred on the driver, after media reports described him as a speed freak who once gleefully posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer going at 200 kilometres per hour (125 mph).

Below the photo he wrote the caption: "I am on the edge, I can't go faster or else I will be fined."

The man's Facebook page has since been taken down, but Spanish newspapers quoted another of his posts as saying: "What fun it would be to race the Guardia Civil (police) and pass them, causing their radar to blow up hehehe. What a huge fine that would be for Renfe."

Police originally intended to question him on Thursday but had to wait because he was still being treated for light injuries sustained in the crash on the outskirts of the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, a police source said.

The driver told authorities "I've messed up, I want to die;" Spanish news agency Europa press reported citing transcripts that make up part of the judicial investigation into the incident. 

The El Pais newspaper, citing sources close to the investigation, said the driver stated immediately after the crash that he had been travelling at 190 km/h (118 mph) on a curve with a speed limit of 80 km/h.

"I am going at 190! I hope no one died because it will weigh on my conscience," he reportedly told supervisors over the radio while trapped inside the cab after the eight-carriage train flew off the tracks on a curve at 8:42 (1842 GMT).

The Galician regional government said 80 people died and at least another 100 were injured in the accident,.

The US Department of State confirmed that one of its citizens was among the dead and five others had been injured.

Eighty-three people were still in hospital, 32 of them in critical condition, including four children.

It is Spain's deadliest rail accident since 1944 when hundreds were killed in a train collision, also between Madrid and Galicia.

Of the 80 dead, 13 still had not been identified.   Officials were holding off giving a complete list of the injured until everyone has been identified.

Renfe president Julio Gomez-Pomar Rodriguez told Cadena Cope radio station that it was too early to speculate about the cause of the disaster, but the Spanish secretary of state for transport, Rafael Catala, said excessive speed appeared to be the culprit.

"The tragedy that happened in Santiago de Compostela seems to be linked to excessive speed, but we are still waiting on the judicial investigation," he told radio station Cadena Ser.

Renfe said the train had no technical problems and had just passed an inspection on the morning of the accident.

Many of the passengers were thought to be on their way to a festival in honour of Saint James, the apostle who gave his name to Santiago de Compostela, an annual event that draws crowds of pilgrims to the town.

All festivities have been cancelled as Spain plunged into mourning for the victims.

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CATALONIA

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove their masks outdoors?

As Spain's vaccine campaign gains speed and the infection rate drops, there are indications that facemasks will very soon no longer be compulsory outdoors in several Spanish regions.

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove masks outdoors?
Photo: ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

Spain’s Health Emergencies chief Fernando Simón said at a recent press conference that he is hopeful about relaxing the rule about the use of masks in outdoor spaces, as long as the safety distance of 1.5 meters can be guaranteed.

“It is very possible that in a few days the use of a mask outdoors can be reduced. Of course, always guaranteeing that the risks are decreasing,” he said.

However, Simón also added that “reducing one measure does not mean that the same should be done with all measures”. In addition, he asked citizens to go “step by step and be careful until we see the effects that mean we can relax the restrictions”.

Although this will be decided in the next few days Simón does not want anyone to “fall into false assurances”.

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020, and since March of this year, you are required to wear them in almost all indoor and outdoor settings, even if you’re sticking to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask-wearing such as eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc. 

Regions that could possibly relax restrictions on the use of masks outdoors

If the mask restrictions are relaxed by the government and the health authorities, the regions that could already qualify because of their low-to-medium risk epidemiological situations include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla La-Mancha, Extremadura, the Valencian region, Murcia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Which regions are in favour of the move?

Both Catalonia and Galicia have said that they would be in favour of dropping the use of masks outdoors.

The Catalan government was one of the first regions to open the discussion on relaxing the use of masks outdoors.

According to Catalan Regional Health Secretary MarcRamentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population having received at least one dose, the matter is worth discussing. 

Not having to wear a mask outdoors will help the summer “feel more like 2019 than that of 2020”, said Ramentol.

President of the Xunta of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijoo, said last week that he expects the use of masks outdoors will be abolished in July, however on Tuesday, May 18th at the Hotusa Group Tourism Innovation Forum in Madrid, he insisted that it is only “a matter of weeks”.

Although Valencia currently still has some strict rules in place, Regional President Ximo Puig has stated that he is in favour of the mask not being compulsory in open spaces. “We know that in open spaces there is a much lower possibility of contagion and I have been supporting this for a long time – it is not necessary to use the mask in some open spaces, natural spaces or on the beaches,” he said.

Which regions want to keep making masks compulsory in outdoor spaces

Regional authorities in Madrid and the Basque Country, the regions which the highest infection rates in Spain have criticised the national government’s position regarding masks, arguing that’s it’s too soon for masks to no longer be obligatory outdoors.

Andalusia is also against the proposal. Jesús Aguirre, Minister of Health and Families in Adalusia, has said that it would be a mistake since the mask is “the most powerful weapon” with which we have to avoid possible infections within the region. 

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