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COVID-19

IN IMAGES: Spaniards flock outdoors for walks and sport after 48-day lockdown

People across Spain were on Saturday free to go out for walks and to exercise after 48 days of home confinement to combat the coronavirus in one of the world's worst-hit countries.

IN IMAGES: Spaniards flock outdoors for walks and sport after 48-day lockdown
Photos: AFP

People across Spain were on Saturday free to go for walks and play sport after 48 days of home confinement to combat the coronavirus in one of the worst-hit countries.

Spain's nearly 47 million people have since March 14 lived under one of the strictest virus lockdowns in the world, with adults authorised to leave home only to buy food, medicine or walk the dog.

“It's lovely to be able to dress up and go for a walk instead of doing exercises at home,” said 79-year-old Sonia Claesson, out for a stroll near the Madrid opera with a friend, 76.

“We're part of the high-risk population, so I didn't go out at all,” she said.

'Out for first time'

The lockdown was prolonged late last month until May 9 but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday unveiled a plan to gradually begin easing the restrictions in four phases that should be completed by the end of June.

Children under 14 were already last week allowed to step outside for walks. And the restrictions were further eased on Saturday.

“I am going out for the first time for a short walk,” said 87-year-old Amalia Garcia Manso as she wandered down Madrid's Calle Mayor, wearing a facemask and gloves and supported by a cane and the arm of her daughter.

“This hurts, it's hard for me to see that all of Madrid is closed”, she said, on one of the city's main shopping streets.

Some people stopped for a selfie at the Alcala Gate in the centre of the capital, adorned with a black ribbon as a reminder of Spain's losses to Covid-19.

Spain has recorded 215,000 virus cases and almost 25,000 deaths.

Mandatory masks

In Barcelona, the seafront was crowded with people running or walking although, unlike some seaside resorts like San Sebastian, access to the beaches was still blocked.

Not everybody respected the two-metre distance rule from others, prompting Jose Antonio, a 65-year-old pensioner, to complain that “if people want to catch the virus, let them, but then they'll confine us again in two or three weeks time”.

To limit the risk, wearing masks will become mandatory on public transport in Spain from Monday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday.

Millions of masks are to be distributed across the country. Their use had, up to now, simply been “highly recommended”.

Despite the easing of the lockdown, many restrictions remained. In towns of more than 5,000 inhabitants, children and the elderly cannot leave home at the same times.

The time slots of 10am to midday and 7pm until 8pm are reserved for people over 70 and those they need to accompany them.

From 6am to 10am and from 8pm to 11 pm, adolescents of over 14 and adults can leave to go for walks of less than one kilometre (0.6 miles) from their homes, but only two at a time from the same household.

Near Madrid's central Retiro Park, which remains closed, many residents were out jogging, some in groups.

A policeman used a loudhailer to urge people to jog only on the sidewalks and not on the road.

Marcos Abeytua, a 42-year-old financial advisor who lives in the normally bustling district of Chueca, said he got up at 7am to go for a run, something he would not normally do on a Saturday morning when he usually recovers from a late Friday night out.

“After so many weeks in confinement, I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world,” he said. “Yesterday, I was like a child on Christmas Eve.”

Afternoons are reserved for children under 14, who can leave home accompanied by an adult between midday and 7pm.

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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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