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Coronavirus: The everyday precautions to take if you’re in Spain

Coronavirus has been in the news since January and this week the first cases were confirmed on mainland Spain. But is there reason to be worried? And what should we do to avoid contracting the virus? (This article is not behind a paywall)

Coronavirus: The everyday precautions to take if you're in Spain
Pharmacists across Spain have sold out of face masks. By Dan Littauer

Since Monday a total of 12 people have tested positive to the virus and the number is expected to rise as widespread testing is carried out on people already admitted into hospital with flu-like symptoms.

The news has sparked alarm and caused panic buying of protective face masks and disinfectant hand gel as people prepare to protect themselves and reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

Pharmacies across Spain have reported selling out of masks, while prices online have skyrocketed from the usual €3-€5 to more than €300 for a packet of five.

The rush on masks started in January with Chinese residents buying up stocks to send to family back home.

“Many Chinese residents as well as tourists in Spain bought most of our stocks, the last one we sold was about two weeks ago,” Pharmacist Clara Largo Villanueva, from the Farmacia Madrid Internacional told The Local.”

“Initially we had people buying several boxes of FFP2 masks, but we then had to ration it up to three boxes of five masks per person as we saw we were running out,” she said.

“We ran out of FFP2 made by 3M and even the FFP1 by a local brand, the latter is actually useless against the virus.  3M stocks have run out at both the distributor and factory levels; therefore, they need to be produced and distributed and that will take a while. I’ve no idea when we will have new stocks, same goes for hand gel too.”

As a pharmacist she insisted that the new coronavirus was no real cause for alarm.

“I am not worried about the coronavirus more than I am about the common flu, which seems to have a higher mortality rate, and see no need to use the mask in either types,” she said.

“People in good health shouldn’t really need these masks anyway and should wash their hands thoroughly at home, which is just as effective as hand gel.  Only people who have a serious pre-existing illness, like cancer, respiratory problems or have a compromised immune system should be careful,” the pharmacist said.

Fernando Simón, the director of health emergency in Spain gave a press conference insisting that the coronavirus posed very low risk to the general population and that there was no need to adopt “useless measures” such as wearing masks.

But despite health authorities insisting that a mask is only useful if you're already ill, or if you're a health professional assisting people who are ill, people are still desperate to get their hands on one.

A hospital in Madrid has reported the theft of hundreds of surgical masks from a storeroom while in Malaga a doctor is facing charges after he was discovered stealing boxes of them to sell on the black market.

So what should you do to keep safe?

Rather than worry about a mask, authorities in Spain are repeating the message issued by the WHO and other health authorities in countries where the virus is prevalent.

The advice is much the same as that issued during flu season and involves taking a few basic precautions.

You should take the same precautions in Spain that you would anywhere else:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness.
  • Wear a mask if you suspect you are ill, or if you are assisting someone else who is ill.
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

People are also advised not to take any antibiotics or antiviral medication unless they have been prescribed by a doctor.

You can find the latest information and health advice regarding the coronavirus outbreak in Spain from the Spanish Health Ministry, your country's embassy, or the World Health Organization.


What restrictions are in place in Spain?

None, unless you happen to be a guest in the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife, which is currently under lockdown after four Italian guests tested positive to the virus.

However, Spain’s health authorities have advised against travel in northern Italy and sought to identify other potential cases that may have slipped under the radar by testing those already in hospital with respiratory problems or returning from high risk areas with flu-like symptoms.

They are telling people who have returned from a zone where there is a coronavirus outbreak, such as China, northern Italy, Iran and South Korea, to immediately contact emergency health services by telephone if they show symptoms that include a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Those who appear healthy can go about their lives normally.

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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.