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HEALTH

Spain’s lockdown will be extended as PM predicts ‘worst still to come’

Spain's prime minister said Sunday he would ask parliament to extend a state of emergency until April 11th to try to curb the spread of coronavirus after the country recorded 394 new deaths from the disease.

Spain's lockdown will be extended as PM predicts 'worst still to come'
Empty streets in Barcelona this weekend. Photo: AFP

A nationwide 15-day state of emergency was first announced on March 14th and it bars people in the nation of around 46 million people from leaving home except for essential outings like buying food or seeking medical care.

Sanchez said his cabinet would on Tuesday approve the request to extend the state of emergency for another 15 days, adding he was confident that the assembly would approve it.

“I know it is a drastic measure…but experts agree that it is an effective measure in the fight against coronavirus,” he told a news conference after holding talks via video conference with the heads of Spain's regional
governments.   

“We hope that with this measure, which is so drastic, so dramatic, so hard, which without a doubt has consequences on our families, we can bend the (growth) curb of coronavirus.”

The announcement comes after Spain reported 394 new deaths caused by the pandemic, raising to 1,720 the official death toll in Europe's worst-hit country after Italy, a 30 percent increase over the previous day.

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The number of confirmed cases of the disease rose by 3,646, or 14.6 percent, to 28,572, with Sanchez warning the outbreak would continue to expand in the coming days.

“We have yet to receive the impact of the strongest, most damaging wave, which will test our material and moral capacities to the limit, as well as our spirit as a society,” he said during a televised address late on Saturday.

'Signficiant problem'

The rise in infections is bringing Spain's health care system to the brink of collapse, especially in the regions of Madrid and Barcelona which account of half of all infections of COVID-19.

“There will be stress and a problem in some places. The pressure on the system will be high,” the health ministry's emergencies coordinator, Fernando Simon, said.

“This collapse which is being talked about could happen in some places but it will not be generalised.”   

Health care workers have for days complained that they are running short of equipment, such as masks.

The pandemic claimed the first life of a health care worker in Spain last week, that of a 52-year-old nurse in the northern Basque Country.   

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers accounted for over 10 percent of all confirmed cases of coronavirus, Simon said.   

“This is a significant problem for our health care system,” he told a news conference.

Field hospital

To ease pressure on hospitals in the Madrid region, soldiers helped move patients over the weekend to a makeshift field hospital set up at a conference centre in the Spanish capital.

The facility will be fitted with 5,500 hospital beds, which would make it the biggest such coronavirus field hospital in Europe.

About 1,300 hospitals beds have so far been set up at the facility and officials plan to move over 300 patients there this weekend, the director of the field hospital, Antonio Zapatero, said in an interview with daily newspaper El Mundo.

A photo taken before the first patients arrived showed rows of empty beds covered in white sheets laid out on the concrete floor of the conference centre.   

The Spanish government said Saturday it would distribute another 500,000 masks to healthcare workers, and 800,000 for patients.   

It also said it had also bought more than 640,000 coronavirus tests.    

Authorities have called up 52,000 extra workers to help the country's health service as it struggles to contain the virus, including 14,000 retired doctors and nurses.

Around 2,850 soldiers have been mobilised to disinfect airports and ports and other tasks in the fight against the virus.

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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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