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TRAIN CRASH

Train driver admits to lapse of concentration

The driver of a train that crashed near the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela on July 24th admitted before a judge on Monday that he was confused and didn't know what section of track he was on.

Train driver admits to lapse of concentration
A man takes a picture of the locomotive of the train that crashed near Santiago de Compostela on July 27th killing 79 people. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP
Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, admitted to the judge he had a "lapse" of concentration while driving the train, Spanish media reported on Monday, citing court sources.
 
El Pais newspaper, citing investigation sources, reported that Garzon had told railway officials by radio that the train had taken the curve at 190 kph (118mph).
 
The driver was charged on Sunday with 79 counts of reckless homicide and released on bail after being questioned by the judge.
 
The judge ordered him to report to court every week and forbade him from leaving Spain for six months, the High Court of Galicia, which is leading the investigation, said in a statement.
 
He also banned him from driving trains for six months.
 
Police detained Garzon Amo on Thursday, a day after what is Spain's deadliest rail disaster in decades, on suspicion of reckless homicide.
 
He was still in hospital recovering from a light head injury he suffered in the crash.
 
On Sunday, a police car delivered him in handcuffs to the courthouse for the closed hearing. He had spent the previous night in a police cell.
 
Garzon Amo was dressed in a blue shirt and a scar was visible from his injury.
 
Just hours before the court hearing began regional health officials said a woman critically injured in the crash had died in hospital, bringing the toll to 79.
 
The latest victim was a US national, the Galician High Court said, bringing to nine the total number of foreigners who died.
 
Flowers and candles were placed at the gates of the city's cathedral, a year-round destination for Roman Catholic pilgrims, which will host a memorial service for the victims on Monday.
 
Mourners gathered for a memorial service on Monday for the 79 people killed in Spain's worst train disaster in decades, after the driver was charged with reckless homicide.
 
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, and Crown Prince Felipe are scheduled to attend the service.

"We are really feeling the impact. People are praying. It is a great tragedy," said 70-year-old Marlen de Francisco, who sells souvenirs in the cathedral square.

"All day people are asking me for note paper so they can write messages and put them on the cathedral gates.

The president of the Spanish rail network administrator ADIF, Gonzalo Ferre, said Garzon had been warned to start slowing the train "four kilometres before the accident happened".

A resident who rushed to the scene said in a television interview broadcast Sunday that the driver told him minutes after the crash he had been unable to brake.

"He said he had to brake to 80 and couldn't, that he was going fast," Evaristo Iglesias told Antena 3. Along with another man, he said, he had accompanied the driver to a stretch of flat land where other injured people were being laid out after the accident.

"He kept saying 'I want to die! I want to die! I don't want to see this!".    

State railway company Renfe said the driver had been with the firm for 30 years, including 13 years as a driver, and had driven trains past the spot of the accident 60 times.

El Mundo newspaper on Sunday printed extracts from the train's route plan, indicating that ahead of the bend the train passed from a stretch of track with a speed limit of 220kph to one with a limit of 80kph.

The newspaper said it was "surprising" that it was left entirely up to the driver exactly when to brake as the train entered the curve.

Some media reports described Garzon Amo as a speed freak who had once posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer at 200 kph.

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

But the secretary general of Spain's train drivers' union, Juan Jesus Garcia Fraile, told public radio the track was not equipped with braking technology to slow the train down automatically if the driver failed to do so when required.

Many of the passengers were said to be on their way to a festival in honour of Saint James, the apostle who gave his name to Santiago de Compostela.

"As a believer, I wonder how Saint James can have allowed this to happen," said Pedro, a grey-bearded pilgrim from Cantabria in northern Spain, wearing a cape and using a walking stick.

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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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