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Spain plans to use mobile phone data to track citizens during coronavirus crisis

The Spanish government said it would use mobile phone location data to track people's movements and see how closely a nationwide lockdown is being respected.

Spain plans to use mobile phone data to track citizens during coronavirus crisis
Police applauding health workers outside a hospital in Madrid.Photo: AFP

“The goal is to analyse the effect which the (confinement) measures have had on people's movements, and see if people's movements across the land are increasing or decreasing,” the government said in a statement.

Dubbed “DataCovid”, the study will be carried out by national statistics institute INE with the cooperation of the country's main telecoms operators, it said.

The government said all the data it receives from the operators will be scrubbed of any personally identifiable information and will be completely anonymous, in line with the country's privacy laws.

Spain, a nation of around 47 million residents, imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 14th to fight the coronavirus, with people allowed out only to go to work, buy food, seek medical care and briefly walk their dog.

Restrictions have since been tightened, with non-essential workers asked to stay at home from March 30.

The initial two week period of lockdown has been extended until at least April 12th with the likelihood that it could be stretched even further and continue until the end of April.

Since the nationwide lockdown began, Spanish law enforcers have issued more than 270,000 fines ranging from €100 for minor infractions up to €600,000 for the most serious. 

Police forces have also arrested some 2,311 people with those offenders facing up to 18 months jail time for the most serious offences. 

 

While the majority of citizens have been observing the restrictions and are only leaving the house under the allowed exceptions, such as to buy food or medicine, to help an elderly or vulnerable relative, or walk the dog, some have been caught flouting the rules. 

The Guardia Civil posted this tweet to emphasise that even if it seems like fun and has the best intentions, people must not leave the house for any but the approved reasons.

 

 

 

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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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