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COVID-19

What we know about Spain’s ‘plan for transition to a new normal’

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez outlined the “plan for transition to a new normal” which will see lockdown gradually lifted across Spain according to how the coronavirus crisis is evolving from province to province.

What we know about Spain's 'plan for transition to a new normal'
From Saturday, people in Spain will be allowed to leave the house to exercise. Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP

Unlike France and Italy which have announced a timeline for the reopening of shops and businesses, Spain is talking more loosely in terms of “phases” that will each last for at least two weeks and will be applied according to the province rather than the region.

“The de-escalation will be gradual, asymmetric and co-ordinated,” said Sanchez in a televised address on Tuesday that was delayed from 2pm to 6pm after the cabinet meeting to approve the measures ran on.

“We are going to do it in phases and by the province or the island and there will be no movement allowed between provinces or islands,” he explained.

The “new normal” could be in place by the end of June if all goes well.

“In the best-case scenario, this de-escalation phase will take a minimum ofsix weeks and the maximum duration we want to see is eight weeks for the whole of Spain,” Sanchez said.

“By the end of June, we as a country will have entered into the newnormality if the epidemic remains under control,” he said.

 

Four phases:

The cabinet has approved a plan that will see the classification of four phases.

Each of the four phases will last no less than two weeks and will be evaluated on a weekly basis, he said, without giving fixed dates.

Phase Zero

This is a preparatory stage that will be in place across all of Spain from Monday May 4. This stage will see the start of economic activity on a very small scale, with premises open “by appointment” and restaurants able to open for takeaway purposes only.

Government offices will be opened to those with prior appointments and restaurants will be able to prepare take-out orders.   

Professional sportsmen will be able to resume individual training, and all public locations will be cleaned and readied for phase one.

Phase 1

This phase will begin from May 11th in some provinces and would allow a “partial reopening of small businesses following strict safety restrictions,” said Sanchez adding that opening large commercial outlets where crowds could gather would not be included in this phase.

Bars and restaurants will be able to reopen their terraces while restricting occupancy to a third of their normal capacity. Hotels and tourist accommodation will open while keeping communal areas shut and must respect capacity restrictions.

Small shops may open, and all commercial activity must include hours giving priority to the over-65s.   

Places of worship can open but with only a third of normal capacity.

During phase 1 the use of masks would be highly recommended on public transport.

You will also be allowed to travel in a car with those people from the same household.

Phase 2

This phase will see restaurants open for diners, as long as social distancing can be observed which means reduced occupacy to a third of normal capacity.

Places of worship will be able to expand their occupancy to 50 percent of their normal capacity.

Cultural events will resume with events limited to 50 people and 30 percent occupancy, or 400 people if it is outdoors and people are seated.

Cinemas and theatres could also open during this phase but with a third of capacity.

Phase 3

This final phase will bethe final transition to a “new normal” which could be in place “as soon as the end of June in the best case-scenario and if the epidemic continues to be under control in all territories,” said Sanchez.

All shops to open, while respecting a 50 percent capacity with customers observing social distancing norms.

Restaurant capacities to be eased while ensuring a strict separation between customers.   

Although restrictions on movement will be further eased, no movement will be permitted between regions until both have completed phase three, while the use of face masks outside of the home will be “strong recommended”, particularly while using public transport.

When will the schools reopen?

The Prime Minister said schools will reopen in September but that there will be a facility during phase 2 for students to go in to complete university application processes and exams. He also said that childcare would be available at schools for those under six-year.olds whose parents are unable to work from home.  

Can you travel around the province?

The Prime Minister seemed to suggest that movement within the province would be allowed from phase one but that visits outside the province would not permitted until the final phase to avoid spreading the virus between zones.

“Imagine that one province is in Phase 1 and another in Phase 3,” he said. “Mobility cannot be permitted in order to go and meet with a relative or friend.”

Movement between provinces would return “when we reach the phase of the new normality,” he added.

When can you visit your second home?

Sanchez answered a question about visiting second homes stating that those who had second residences in the same province may be able to visit them during phase 1 but for second homes located outside your home province, then visits must wait until both provinces had reached phase 3.

If it is in the same province then it may be possible to do so during phase 1, said Pedro Sanchez but if your second home is located in a different province it won’t be allowed until a later phase.

What about exercise?

The good news that everyone has been waiting for is that from Saturday, adults will be allowed to leave the house to exercise. The exact conditions  have yet to be determined, and there may be time restrictions as well as a limit to how far one can go outside the home.

“This weekend individual physical activity will be allowed, as will walks,” he said adding that details on the new rules would be published later in the week.

Another extension

But Sanchez did say that he would be seeking yet another extension to the state of alarm that was declared on March 14and has seen the strictest lockdown imposed within Europe. It has already been extended three times until May 9but the Prime Minister said he would ask Congress to approve measures for another fortnight.

Restrictions will be loosened on the islands first

Sanchez said that the islands that had been least affected  by the coronavirus would be the first to see restrictions lifted. 

Formentera and Menorca in the Balearics, and La Gomera, El Hierro and Graciosa in the Canary Islands could expect to enter Phase 1 very soon after May 4th to be followed from May 11th by other provinces and islands that have met the criteria set by the Health Ministry. 

When will Spain open to tourists?

There was no date set for when Spain might open its borders to foreign visitors and tourists.

READ ALSO Q&A: When will we be able to meet friends and family in Spain?

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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