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COVID-19

When and how will Spain’s coronavirus lockdown measures end?

As Spain reaches the end of the third week confined at home, the question everyone is asking is when will this be over and normal life resume? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer.

When and how will Spain's coronavirus lockdown measures end?
Photos: AFP

Since March 14th Spain has been on strict lockdown with all but essential trips outside the home banned. That was extended on March 30th to the closure of all businesses and companies not providing key services during the coronavirus crisis.

The huge majority of people have taken individual responsibility seriously and obeyed by the rules but police have been enforcing the measures and have issued more than 270,000 fines fines and made 2,311 arrests.

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How long will lockdown last?

The measures were extended beyond an initial two week period to April 11. But don’t think about making any plans to celebrate your liberty quite yet.

The Spanish government has said it is still considering options to extend the confinement yet again, and will make an announcement in the next few days, most likely after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday April 7

On Thursday evening Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced that a decision would be made on extending the lockdown for another fortnight, that would see the measures continue until April 26.

But it could well be extended beyond even that date if the government considers the measures are still necessary.

Is it working?

According to the latest data which shows a slowing in the number of people being hospitalized with the coronavirus, it seems Spain may have reached its peak although experts have warned there is still worse to come before it gets better.

Health Minister Salvador Illa confirmed on Thursday that Spain had reached the peak of the contagion curve and had now entered the “slowdown phase”:

The number of deaths is expected to continue to rise as those hospitalized cases worsen but the increase in numbers entering Intensive Care Units had fallen to 4 percent on Thursday from 16 percent a week earlier.

A team at Valencia’s Universidad Politénica predict that the peak of patients needing treatment in UCIs across Spain will occur on April 9th.

How will quarantine end?

Experts are predicting that Spain will be unlikely to lift the restrictions en masse as that would likely only spark up contagion again.

Instead there may be a staggered lifting of the lockdown with all those vulnerable people staying shielded but those workers who aren’t able to work from home returning to the work place.

The team at Valencia’s Universidad Politénica predict that the best way to ensure the coronavirus is kept under control will be with a staggered lifting allowing 25 percent of the population to exit confinement week by week.

They suggest it is likely that from May 1st such a plan could be rolled out with a quarter of the population allowed out each week during May, although they would still be expected to maintain social distancing.

Rafael Villanueva, the lead author of the study, said that i”n the best case scenario the warmer weather that comes with May plus continued social distancing could see the rate of contagion reduced to a third”.

But he admitted: “There is still so much we don't know about the coronavirus.” 

The details have not yet been discussed but it would mean that there are likely to be restrictions in place, if not total lockdown, throughout most of May too.  

Testing

Experts agree that widespread screening of the population will be crucial to end lockdown safely, in particular to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus who can infect others.

Therefore the success of lifting the lockdown will depend on extensive testing for coronavirus, something which is not yet possible in Spain.

Authorities have insisted that they are working on introducing widespread screening of the population with the introduction of a rapid tests for the covid-19 but there have been setbacks.

Currently Spain is only those who are admitted into hospital for the coronavirus as well as prioritising testing of health workers and key workers on the frontline of the battle against the heath crisis.

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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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