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COVID-19

Spain toughens coronavirus lockdown as all non-essential workers told to stay home

All non-essential workers in Spain must stay home over the next two weeks in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced in a press conference on Saturday.

Spain toughens coronavirus lockdown as all non-essential workers told to stay home
Photo: AFP

Spain's government will halt all “non-essential” activities from Monday March 30 as a means of stopping as many Spaniards as possible from leaving their homes and risking infection.

Sánchez told journalists the new legislation will be passed on Sunday in an extraordinary meeting of Spain's Council of Ministers and apply to non-essential workers until Thursday April 9, the day before Good Friday.

All affected employees in Spain will receive paid leave and will be able to make up lost work hours over an extended period of time when the isolation period ends.

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“All workers in non-essential economic activities must stay at home for two weeks,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised address, in a measure that follows similar moves in Italy.

“The most important thing is to slow the number of people being taken to hospital,” he said. “The virus is hitting us with relentless brute force.. (and now) is the time to intensify the battle.”

Up until Sánchez's announcement, whether employees should go to their workplaces or work from home was decided by companies themselves.

As a result, Spanish labour experts had to inform workers they could face absenteeism penalties if they chose to work from home due to their fears of exposure to Covid-19.

Shops and businesses with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and some hairdressers and dry cleaners' have been closed across Spain since March 15. Construction work had also been allowed to continue. 

The new legislation will mean Spanish workers in non-essential fields (which excludes healthcare workers, supermarket workers, pharmacists etc) will no longer be obliged to head to the office in the midst of Spain's worst health crisis in decades. 

The death toll in Spain surged over 5,600 on Saturday after a record 832 people died in 24 hours, and the number of infections soared over 72,000, the government said.

Spain currently has the world's second-highest coronavirus death toll after Italy with 5,690 fatalities as of Friday March 27.

Spain went into lockdown on March 14 but the numbers have continued to grow, with a worrying rise in cases among healthcare personnel.

 

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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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