Coronavirus in Spain: ‘Telling people to stay apart at beaches in summer won’t work’

After the Spanish government announced a complicated, four-phased de-escalation of the state of emergency, we were left contemplating how we will adjust to what prime minister Pedro Sánchez called the 'new normality', writes Barcelona-based journalist Graham Keeley.

Coronavirus in Spain: 'Telling people to stay apart at beaches in summer won't work'
Photo: AFP

So, life after lockdown at last becomes a possibility.

Adults will be allowed out on their own from next week to practice sport. Until now we have only been permitted to leave the house if we were buying food, seeking medical help or heading to work in selected industries.

Restaurants will re-open, but only for takeaways. I will be allowed to get that badly-needed haircut.

If all goes to plan and there is not a new surge in infections, the country will progress to the next stage – confusingly called phase one – in which restaurants with terraces will be allowed to re-open up to 30% of their capacity and hotels can take bookings as long as they keep communal areas shut and observe social distancing rules.

I think many people are wondering who is going head out for a meal at these rather empty, soulless restaurants? Who would want to book into a hotel? Hoteliers and restaurateurs have condemned these plans as unrealistic.

Masks will be recommended but not compulsory. Why not compulsory? Already when I head out for our allotted one hour a day with the children, hardly anyone is wearing the masks. It seems a worrying sign.

The government has said Spain should return to normal by the end of June if all goes to plan. Although working at home will still be advised, businesses can slowly re-open.

However, schools will not re-open until September. So, who will look after millions of children if the parents are back at work? Does this mean extended families -or most often grandparents here in Spain – must be called upon to help? Surely, this raises the possibility of more social contact and a greater probability of a new spate of infections.

The beaches will be opened again by June if the plan goes well. But at present, the idea is this will only be possible if people observe social distancing and local police may have to stop crowds building up.

I may be a cynic but trying to tell people to keep away from each other on Spain's crowded beaches at the height of summer seems a little like the apocryphal story of King Canute trying to stop the sea coming in; it just cannot happen.

Strangely, after nearly seven weeks in lockdown, some seem a little reluctant to leave the secure confines of their homes to risk their health in the outside world.

Despite the encouraging signs that the infection rate is falling and daily fatalities are descending, the epidemic is not over.

However, it looks like our wary world is a fixture for now.



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .





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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.