What is Spain doing about its face mask shortage?

Spain's face mask shortage has sparked a cottage industry, with prisoners, nuns and even comedians pulling out needle and thread to help out.

What is Spain doing about its face mask shortage?
A woman sews handmade face masks at a workshop in Burgos, northen Spain. Photo: AFP



As news of the COVID-19 virus slowly spread over the New Year, one of the early signs of concern in Spain was the panic buying of protective masks. By late January pharmacies in Madrid and Valencia had sold out of their stock.

Although the initial surge was reportedly driven by Spain’s Chinese communities, who were not only buying to send masks to friends and family back in China but also were perhaps more aware of the dangers of the virus and the shortages that would occur when it spread to Europe.

Fast forward two months and after 11 days into the lockdown declared under Spain's state of emergency and Spain is in the grips of his owns crisis and long sold out of the basic equipment considered essential in combatting the spread of the virus. 



So what is Spain doing about it? 

It the short term it has been relying on donations:

The government recently welcomed a delivery of 500,000 masks from Chinese businessman and Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who King Felipe had met with several times at global events in the last few months. The masks are to be distributed to regions across Spain.

Similarly, an Inditex plane delivered 1.5m masks and 75,000 protective suits in Zaragoza on Monday, donated to the Ministry of Health by Amancio Ortega. The multinational has also made its logistical infrastructure available to the government throughout the crisis.

Whilst this will undoubtedly help with the shortage, the aberrant nature of the virus means that Spaniards have been forced to become more resourceful and adopt civic responsibilities in a way unseen in peacetime.

Take for example Margarita Gil Baro, an 84 year old former seamstress from Cadiz who has been producing 50 masks a day. Knowing she is high-risk and confined to the house all day, she has little else to keep her busy so has been at her sewing machine for nine hours a day.

Inmates at prisons across Spain have also contributed to the effort. Prisoners at Córdoba, Alcalá de Guadaira, Huelva, Alcalá-Meco, Topas and Sevilla Iprions will manufacture masks in their workshop areas over the coming weeks.

The idea was pushed by the prison workers union Acaip-UGT, will begin with surgical mask production and could extend to gowns and other sanitary clothing.

A volunteer irons a handmade face mask at the workshop of Spanish designer Tila Ares in Portonovo, northwestern Spain.Photo: AFP

Yecla, a small Murcian town famous for furniture production, has repurposed its factories in order to produce more masks. Félix López, manager of Fama Sofás, says his factory is not alone and it has been a community movement. “Some thirty Yecla companies have already joined to lend a hand and also make their resources available”.

A prototype was collected from the local hospital and Yeclanos got to work. “The masks they use are made mechanically, with robots, and we have tried to adapt them because we do them manually” Lópezadded.

Many have been donated to hospitals, but a batch were recently delivered door-to-door by a volunteer force. Each Yeclano was given two masks. López has found the solidarity very heartening. Yecla has, he explains, “a waiting list for Yecla women to get behind the machine.” 

Spanish comedienne Paz Padilla has also contributed to the effort. As a former nurse the television presenter found the shortage particularly worrying. Despite being isolated at home, Padilla is sewing masks for the doctors and nurses on the front line of the pandemic.

She, like Yeclanos, remains both positive and proud of the solidarity shown by Spaniards in the face of the crisis. Speaking to her social media followers, Padilla states that Surrendering is not an option. Let's do it!”.

Even a group of cloistered nuns in Mallorca have got in on the act, adding mask making to their duties outside of daily prayers. The nuns at Santa Clara have requisitioned cotton sheets and so far sewn more than 700 masks to be distributed across the island.

Although Spain is mired in unprecedented times, the death toll rising and the end of the lockdown nowhere in sight, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be bringing the best out of Spanish society. Spaniards know that positivity, solidarity and civic responsibility are essential in times of emergency. Community mask production is just an example of that.



March they are considered essential to combatting the virus.By Conor Faulkner


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.