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For the sake of the children: Is it time Spain loosened strict coronavirus lockdown rules?

Spanish children are having to cope with the tightest virus lockdown rules in Europe.

For the sake of the children: Is it time Spain loosened strict coronavirus lockdown rules?
Photo by Cristina Quicler / AFP

For Antonia and many other parents in Spain, the country's strict coronavirus lockdown — which does not allow children to leave home at all — is proving a serious challenge as it drags on.

“This is a nightmare not being able to leave home, having the children at home, that they can't even run,” the 39-year-old teacher told AFP.   

She has been looking after her four daughters, aged three to eight at a Madrid apartment without a balcony while her husband is at work at a hospital, since March 14th when Spain imposed the strictest lockdown in Europe.

People can only venture outside to go to work if doing so from home is not possible, buy food and medicine, seek medical care or briefly walk their dog.    

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While some other European nations allow children outside to play in the company of their parents, Spain makes no such allowances.   

“Every time I see a dog pass by, I go crazy,” Antonia said, reflecting a widely shared frustration among parents with the rules which allow dogs out but not children.

Inmaculada Paredes, a 47-year-old engineer, said she was having trouble sleeping while her seven-year-old son Alvaro “cries more easily” lately.    

“Alvaro tells us: 'I think it isn't fair, you adults can go out and us children no!. And it's true,” added Paredes, who has another young boy.

Owners are allowed to walk their dogs but children must be kept inside. Photo: AFP

'Sacrifice'

The lockdown measures are scheduled to last until at least April 25th and the government has so far rejected calls to ease the restrictions on daily life before then, even though the rates of infections and deaths from the virus have slowed.   

“There are groups which we realise have made a huge sacrifice, such as children for example,” Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday.    

Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, leader of the hard left party Podemos which governs in coalition with the Socialists, said Wednesday he was “lucky” that his three children could play in the garden of his home near Madrid.

“I am conscious that millions of families are looking after their children in their apartments of 40, 50, 60 square metres,” added Iglesias who came under fire when it emerged two years ago that he had acquired a luxury chalet with a swimming pool with his partner, Equality Minister Irene Montero.

As the lockdown has dragged on, calls for children to be given more freedom have intensified.

“They are one of the most vulnerable populations during this prolonged confinement,” said Andres Conde of the Spanish branch of Save the Children, adding the month-long lockdown has already had an impact of children's “physical and psychological health”.

The charity is calling for children to be allowed out for one hour each day near their homes as is the case in France and Belgium.   

The government has asked the national association of pediatricians for its advice.

“As long as the authorities maintain the lockdown, children must respect it like the rest of the population,” said the association's president, Maria Jose Mellado.

Obesity risk


Playgrounds have been closed off since even before the official lockdown. Photo: AFP

Healthcare professionals warn the lockdown is putting children at risk for obesity, anxiety and attention deficit disorders.   

“Little physical activity and an unusual situation could lead children to seek escapism through food,” said Noemi Cuenca, a nutrition professor at the Open University of Catalonia.

To try to help make the lockdown easier, the government and NGOs have published tips on how to maintain health and get along while staying indoors all the time.

Italy, the country in Europe with the most COVID-19 deaths, followed by Spain, allows a  parent to take their children for a walk close to home.   

“It is desirable for everyone, from a psychological and physical point of view, to let us go for a walk like in other countries,” said Paredes, the mother of two boys.

A petition on change.org calling for the Spanish government to make previsions for children to walk outside  had garnered 50,000 signatures by Friday. 

By AFP's Thomas Perroteau

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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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