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COVID-19

Spain to extend lockdown but will ease restrictions for children

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced the nationwide coronavirus lockdown would be extended two weeks to May 9, hours after the official death toll passed 20,000.

Spain to extend lockdown but will ease restrictions for children
Health workers acknowledge applause outside the Hospital de Barcelona. Photo: AFP

“We have done the hardest part through responsibility and social discipline… we are putting the most extreme moments behind us,” Sanchez said. But Spaniards must not jeopardise the fragile gains made so far with hasty decisions.

The restrictions currently in place would however be loosened slightly to allow children time outside from April 27, said Sanchez.

Until now only adults have been able to leave the house for specific reasons: to go to work, to go shopping for food or medicine, for a medical appointment or to walk the dog.

But there were growing calls to let children outside, as is permitted in most other countries observing a lockdown.

Spain, which has been under confinement since March 14, has recorded 20,043 deaths from the virus, the latest health ministry figures showed — the third-highest official toll after the United States and Italy.

Health officials nevertheless say Spain has passed the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak which killed up to 950 people a day on April 2, and pressure is slowly easing on hospitals.

The increase in infections has slowed and the latest daily death toll was 565 people, down from the figure on Friday. The number of people registered as cured has risen to nearly 75,000.

But with almost 200,000 reported cases of the virus, Sanchez warned the country that an end to one of Europe's toughest confinements would be “prudent and progressive”.

And he warned: “If necessary, we will reinforce protective measures again.”
 
Disputed figures
 
But the official toll, which covers only people who tested positive for the virus in Spain, has been contested in some regions.
 
Officials say thousands more people have died after showing symptoms of the disease without actually being tested, because health services do not have enough of them.
 
Catalonia has reported that more than 7,800 people have died while the national toll for the region referred Saturday to more than 3,800.
 
 
Fernando Simon, the health ministry's emergencies coordinator, noted during a daily press briefing Saturday that owing to the strict virus confinement measures, “the current level of transmission is much lower.”
 
The closely-followed rate now indicates that each person infected with  COVID-19 in Spain is passing it on to fewer than one other person, which means the disease is no longer spreading.
 
It was as high as one to three when the Spanish lockdown began.
 
The government has nonetheless indicated that some economic sectors might not rebound before the end of the year, with tourism the main question mark at the moment.
 
Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told radio Onda Cero Saturday that no “mass gatherings” such as concerts or sports events would be held in Spain this summer.

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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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