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Coronavirus: Madrid closes museums as death toll rises to 54

Authorities in Spain moved to stem the spread of coronavirus on Wednesday by ordering museums and other cultural spaces to close in Madrid as the number of deaths linked to the virus in the country rose to 54.

Coronavirus: Madrid closes museums as death toll rises to 54
A sign at the gate of a closed school in Madrid. Photo: AFP

Spain's Ministry of Health released updated figures on the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday with 54 confirmed deaths and over 2,200 infections.

Spain's battle against coronavirus has largely focussed on the capital Madrid where over 30 people have died.

On Thursday the Ministry of Culture announced that museums and cultural sites would close including the famous Prado museum.

Some cinemas would also close.

As school pupils in the Spanish capital were kept at home on the first day of schools being closed across the region, authorities also took extra measures to limit access to public spaces.

Libraries and sporting facilities will remain closed for the foreseeable future as too will cultural institutions including some theatres and exhibition spaces.

Public transport will remain open but measures have been introduced to disinfect all public transport daily.

Events expected to draw crowds of over 1,000 people have been suspended as of Wednesday.

And residents of Madrid were urged not to travel to other zones for fear of spreading the virus further. 

“The country is not being locked down or movement impeded, but we’re asking people to be responsible,” insisted Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s emergency health action during his daily lunchtime press briefing on Wednesday.

“Residents in these risk zones have to be aware of the responsibility they have,” he said.

Over half the cases of Covid-19 in Spain have been registered in Madrid where 1,026 people have tested positive. 

MAP: The regions of Spain most affected by coronavirus outbreak

On Tuesday, in one 24 hour period ten people died from the virus bringing the total fatalities in the capital alone to 31, around 66 percent of the 47 fatalities across Spain from the new coronavirus.

Across Spain 126 people diagnosed with the coronavirus are being treated in intensive care with 102 of those at Madrid hospitals.

Those with symptoms should not go to hospital but call the special coronavirus hotline on 900 102 112

 

 

Supermarkets in Madrid have been overwhelmed by shoppers panic buying as residents stockpile essentials such as toilet paper, pasta and milk. 

Long queues formed at stores across the capital and shelves were emptied despite authorities insisting that there is no forseeable supply problems. 

READ MORE: Why there is no need to be panic buying in Spain


Panic buying has left shelves bare in the capital. Photo: AFP

Catalonia, which has far fewer cases than Madrid took the decision to suspend events involving crowds of  more than 1,000 people on Wednesday, while Valencia has called off Las Fallas celebrations. 

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But health ministry emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said the impact of such measures would only be known “after nine or 10 days”.    

He said it would take “between one and two months” to stop the epidemic, or in a worst-case scenario up to four months.   

 

The government has promised to help the tourism sector in the world's number two tourist destination.

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COVID-19

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.

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