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HEALTH

Is Spain doing enough to control coronavirus spread?

On Wednesday, Spaniards were issued with a harsh warning. Even if measures being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus were successful, we are looking at a period of two months before it is brought under control.

Is Spain doing enough to control coronavirus spread?
Will Easter processions be cancelled in Spain?

Even as he outlined this scenario, Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s health emergencies’ committee admitted that such an optimistic outcome was considered “highly unlikely”.

Instead, “in the worst case scenario it could last between four to five months”.

This warning came as the number of cases soared to 2,109 on Thursday morning with the number of fatalities from the COVID-19 being recorded at 49.

LATEST: Madrid residents urged to 'stay at home' as Spain's coronavirus death toll leaps to 84

So is Spain doing enough?

There has been widespread criticism, not least to those on the right of the political spectrum, to go ahead with the mass demonstrations called for Women’s Day last Sunday, March 8th.


Women's Day on March 8th drew crowds to the streets of Madrid. Photo: AFP

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets to march under the feminist banner in cities across Spain after authorities insisted there was no public health issue in going ahead with the gatherings.

With the advice of frequent hand washing and staying at home if you have symptoms, life carried on as normal even as Italy moved forward with quarantining outbreak zones and then shutting down the country entirely.

But within a day of the mass Women’s Day demonstrations, authorities in Spain announced closures of schools in outbreak areas, and issued the advice to work from home where possible.

Just four days later and people from Madrid are being asked to curb non-essential travel to other regions – a measure being widely ignored by parents with young children who want to decamp to holiday homes and students who would rather head back to their families than risk isolation in student digs.

The latest high profile cases include several lawmakers including equality minister Irene Montero, who attended the women’s day march in Madrid. Both her and her partner, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias are now in quarantine.

READ MORE: 

She is just the latest parliamentarian to be diagnosed. Earlier in the week general secretary of the far-right Vox party tested positive, two days after greeting supporters at a party rally in Vistalegre held as an “alternative” event to the women’s marches.

Ana Pastor, former PP minister and ex-speaker of Congress has also tested positive. All parliamentary sessions have been cancelled.

Regional authorities are imposing their own measures in a bid to restrict the spread of contagion but are still far from adopting the strict measures of the Italian government, where all businesses except for pharmacies and food stores have been closed and people confined to their hopes.  

Madrid authorities have shut down the schools for two weeks, closed sporting facilities and cultural spaces including museums, theatres and concert halls.

Day care centres for the elderly have been shut down and residential homes have put a limit on visitors in a bid to protect the most vulnerable of society.

Madrid was issued with the recommendation that people work from home.

Sporting fixtures will be played in empty stadiums and regional authorities are making case by case decisions on whether to ban events. Valencia has suspended Las Fallas, and Catalonia has banned events drawing crowds of over 1,000 people.

Is it working?


Fernando Simón (R) meets with PM Pedro Sanchez to discuss emergency measures. Photo: AFP

Simón explained that the measures currently introduced should be assessed again within 14 days to see if they have worked.

In Madrid, the streets and public transport are noticeably emptier than usual during rush hour.

But many feel it is a matter of time before travel will have to be restricted not only between regions but abroad too.

Spain is already listed as a danger zone by countries including Israel, Chile and now the US has banned all visitors from Schengen zones in Europe. 

But will Spain take heed of experts insisting more should be done? 

“We are deeply concerned that some countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva,  according to a statement issued on Thursday.

The new coronavirus outbreak “is a  controllable pandemic” if countries step up measures to tackle it, he insisted.

In less than a month, streets across Spain would normally be thronged with crowds huddling together to watch the Semana Santa processions.


Easter parades could pose a public threat. Photo: AFP

And although the pointed face coverings of particpants might offer some sort of protection, who would want to be a member of those brotherhoods responsible for transporting the religious statues through the streets, squashed cheek to cheek by the dozan, shuffling in the confined space below the elaborate floats?

Surely it is a matter of time before Spain has to take the same drastic steps as Italy to curb free movement and social interaction in order to quash the contagion. 

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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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