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COVID-19

‘We’re going out!’: Spanish kids reclaim streets after weeks indoors

After six weeks stuck at home, Spain's children were allowed out on Sunday to run, play or go for a walk as the government eased one of the world's toughest coronavirus lockdowns.

'We're going out!': Spanish kids reclaim streets after weeks indoors
Photos: AFP

Spain is among the hardest hit countries, with a death toll running at more than 23,000, putting it behind only the United States and Italy despite stringent restrictions imposed from March 14.

But unlike other countries, Spain's children were kept indoors, with only adults allowed to leave the house to buy food, medicine, briefly walk the dog or seek urgent medical care.

On Sunday, Spanish children took to the streets of Madrid to enjoy their newfound freedom.

Some rollerbladed while others rode bikes or pushed toy prams around, many wearing small masks to cover their faces.

“It has been very good for me to get out,” said six-year-old Ricardo after a runaround in Madrid with his younger sister.

“We played hide and seek, we raced. We found a ladybug that was lost and we put it in among the ants.”

Some parents took precautions, dressing their kids with protective gear before going out.

“They're all properly equipped with masks and gloves,” said Miguel Lopez, father of two children aged six and three, and who lives in an apartment in northwest Madrid.

“It's like a day out for them, it's the most interesting thing for them in a month,” Lopez told AFP.

Alvaro Paredes, seven, and his brother Javier, four, were just getting ready for their big adventure.

“We are going to go out in an hour's time, going about a kilometre (0.6 miles) on scooter or bicycle to do a tour around our neighbourhood,” their mother Inmaculada Paredes said.

“They are super excited, very, very impatient. They were up at 6:30 am, saying 'We're going out, We're going out!',” she said.

From Sunday a maximum of three children under 14 years will be able to go out once a day, for one hour between 9:00 am (0700 GMT) and 9:00 pm, accompanied by one parent — and no further than one kilometre from their home.

Health Minister Salvador Illa on Friday said it would be “a first step towards easing” the lockdown after earlier insisting that people be very prudent “because the health of the nation is at stake”.

The restriction on children had come under increasing criticism in Spain, with specialists warning of the danger it posed for their health and mental wellbeing.

Last week one of Spain's deputy prime ministers Pablo Iglesias apologised for keeping them at home for six weeks, acknowledging it was “not at all easy” for them and saying thank you.

The government's initial plan to allow children to accompany adults only on their rare authorised trips, for example to supermarkets, satisfied no one and prompted a hasty retreat.

“All our common sense tells us that it is safe for the children,” said mother Paredes.

“If I can go to a supermarket, which is an enclosed space, then going for a walk (in the open) has got to be safer.”

For both her and Miguel Lopez, this easing of the rules would have been welcome earlier but they understand the caution of the authorities, desperate to avoid any resurgence of the disease.

“Many people have been really irresponsible,” Lopez said.

“Those same people who went off to their country houses despite all the warnings, they would have flooded onto the beaches and into the parks if the children had been allowed out earlier.”

“I think they could have done this sooner perhaps but it is true that people in Spain, in Madrid, have not been very good about it,” said Paredes.

The decision was made as Spain appeared to have got past the peak of the pandemic, reporting Sunday a daily death toll of 288, the lowest number since March 20.

All Spaniards will be allowed out for exercise and to take walks from next weekend, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday.

The government will on Tuesday unveil its broader lockdown exit plan that will likely be put into action in the second half of May, he added.

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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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