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VALENCIA

Latest: Valencia cancels Las Fallas fiesta amid coronavirus fears

Authorities in Valencia have taken the decision to cancel the city’s famous Fallas festival in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Latest: Valencia cancels Las Fallas fiesta amid coronavirus fears
Archive photo of crowds gathering for Las Fallas in Valencia. Photo: AFP

Ximo Puig, regional president of Valencia, announced the decision late on Tuesday night adding that other fiestas across the region would also be suspended “to protect the health of the Valencia community”.

He insisted the events could be held at a later date “once the health situation allows”.

The measure will come as a blow to the eastern city on the Mediterranean which attracts more than a million visitors to celebrate the spring festival that sees huge figures paraded through the street before being set on fire.

Estimates put the economic impact of the cancellation of Las Fallas at around half a billion euros.

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So far 63 people have been registered with the coronavirus in the Valencia region, the majority (42) in the city itself. while across Spain as a whole there have now been 1,648 recorded cases and 37 deaths.

Smaller festivities have also been cancelled in Valencia towns of Denia, Pego, Calpe and Pamis.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced economic assistance for companies and families who are suffering financial hardship due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.

In an announcement from Moncloa, the prime minister pledged to provide resources to parents who are unable to go to work and need to take care of their children, as well to offer financial aid to small and medium sized companies in sectors affected by the downturn.

He warned that there would be “difficult weeks” ahead in Spain.

“We will do whatever is necessary, wherever it is necessary and whenever it is necessary, and together we will overcome this crisis,” he said.

Chile placed Spain on a danger list on Tuesday night insisting all travellers arriving in Chile from Spain would be quarantined in the same way as those from Italy. 

“People who enter Chilean territory having visited Spain and Italy, must remain in isolation for 14 days,” the health ministry said in a statement.    

People arriving from these countries will be classified as “high risk travelers” and placed under the surveillance of Chilean health authorities during their isolation period, the ministry said.

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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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