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COVID-19

‘Almost all Spanish employees returning to work lack Covid-19 protective gear’

As millions of workers are allowed to return to their workplaces on Monday, Spanish business groups and unions have warned that the vast majority of companies don’t have the necessary supplies to protect their employees from the virus.

'Almost all Spanish employees returning to work lack Covid-19 protective gear'
Photo: AFP

An estimated 4 million workers in Spain returned to their workplaces on Monday April 13th after a two week “economic hibernation” period which only allowed “essential workers” such as hospital and supermarket employees to carry out their indispensable jobs during the height of Spain’s Covid-19 crisis. 

Most of these non-essential workers that have been given the green light to leave their homes are in the construction and industrial sectors, as well as other businesses classified as important: those selling hygiene products or press and stationery, petrol stations, tobacconists, law firms, telecommunication businesses, those selling pet food, e-commerce businesses, dry cleaners and hairdressers going to people's homes.

But according to the vice president of Spain’s Business Confederation (CEOE) Íñigo Fernández de Mesa, the vast majority of these Spanish companies do not have enough protective gear supplies such as gloves or face masks to guarantee that their employees aren’t at risk of contracting Covid-19.

“What we’ve ascertained from our business sphere is that large companies possibly do have stock and access to these supplies, but small and medium-sized companies don’t,” he said in an interview on Antena 3’s Espejo Público news programme.

This is of particular concern because 95 percent of companies in Spain are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“The delivery of tests, masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and other equipment is essential to guarantee the safety of workers and for the production line to resume activities,” Fernández de Mesa stressed, whilst pointing out that there’s a lot of legal uncertainty in terms of health protocols for companies.

“I’m sure that companies are going to try to protect their workers as much as possible because they’re their main asset, so businesses that see that they can’t avoid the risks will postpone their opening.”

Spain's Interior Ministry announced on Saturday April 11th that it would start distributing 10 million face masks to public transport users – aimed specifically at these returning workers – from Monday April 13th onwards.

But the return to work for these non-essential workers, though not mandatory, has been criticised by regional governments and political opponents of Spain’s ruling socialist government.

Spain's main trade unions CCOO and UGT have also distanced themselves from Sanchez's measure, stating that the government's recommendations “are difficult to apply” and pleading with companies not to ask employees to return to their workplaces if “they cannot guarantee safety protocols”. 

Spain's Prime Minister has justified the decision by saying it will help prevent “the economic collapse and standstill of the economy” and that vulnerable workers as well anyone experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms should stay at home even if they are now technically allowed to go back to work. 

A study published by Spanish market research group DYM found that Pedro Sánchez is the only political leader on a list which also included Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Giuseppe Conte and Emmanuel Macron to have lost popularity since the start if the pandemic.

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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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