Stone-throwing gang target ambulances carrying elderly in southern Spain

A group of stone-throwing youngsters tried to prevent ambulances from transferring 28 elderly coronavirus patients to a residence in their town in southern Spain, police said Wednesday.

Stone-throwing gang target ambulances carrying elderly in southern Spain
Photo: AFP

The incident occurred as the virus death toll soared to 3,434 in Spain, overtaking China, with elderly people bearing the brunt of the outbreak.   

Police said the protest occurred on Tuesday afternoon when a convoy of ambulances tried to enter La Linea de Concepcion, an impoverished city in Andalusia which flanks Gibraltar.

The protesters hurled stones and shouted insults at the ambulances and even tried to block their path by parking a car in the middle of the road, police said, indicating two men aged 32 and 25 were arrested.

The pensioners were being transferred to alternative accommodation in La Linea where they could receive medical treatment because their care home in Alcala del Valle near Malaga “was being disinfected”, a police source said.

At the residence, around 50 people, “mostly youngsters” stood outside, “threatening and insulting the police and those who had brought” them, warning of further protests if more sick pensioners were brought in, he said.

Further disturbances flared up later in the evening with protesters throwing objects from nearby rooftops, including “flammable material”, police said.

Despite an unprecedented national lockdown to curb the outbreak, the virus has now infected 47,610 people in Spain, with the vast majority of fatalities elderly.

Over the past week, Spain has been rushing to try and protect its elderly population after a dozens of deaths at care homes across the country, with the army sent in to conduct a massive deep-clean operation.

A sprawling city with high unemployment, La Linea is located in the southern Cadiz province and is notorious for being a haven for drug trafficking and tobacco smuggling.

“There is a tense atmosphere in the city because those involved in illegal activities like smuggling tobacco or hashish can't do anything, they can't leave their home without justification,” the police source said.

“And when they try to go out, we catch them straight away because with no-one in the streets, the patrols can move much faster because there's no traffic.”

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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.