Environmental crime: Spanish town sparks row after spraying beach with bleach to fight virus

A Cadiz town is mired in controversy over the fumigation of its beaches with bleach so local children can enjoy them during the deescalation of COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Environmental crime: Spanish town sparks row after spraying beach with bleach to fight virus
Photo: Jacinto Perez / Flickr

The  decision was taken jointly by the Neighborhood Board of Zahara de los Atunes and Association of Merchants in order to – theoretically – make the area safer for children finally leaving the house after weeks of confinement, but is being called an “environmental crime” by environmental groups.

The move has already been denounced by the Andalusian government and heavily criticised as the bodies responsible lack the authority to make such a decision, and legal action could be on the horizon as it is feared the tractors that went on the beach for fumigation could have damaged local wildlife.

Indeed some tractors have been found to have traces of plover’s eggs, which at this time of the year are in the height of breeding season.

“It seems incredible that these things still happen, a madness against the beach itself” says María Dolores Iglesias, president of the Association of Environmental Volunteers Trafalgar.

She explained that locals only became aware of what she calls the “ecological attack” after a local informed them that the “plovers they were taking care of were being killed by the men with the tractors.”

The story quickly circulated on social media and faced with public outrage, the president of the Autonomous Local Entity of Zahara de los Atunes, Agustín Conejo, was forced in a statement to the press in which he said the beach was sprayed with bleach with the intention of protecting children wanting to enjoy the coast, buthe admits that it was wrong thing to do.

Environmentalists are not convinced by this explanation, however, and believe the move could have been economically motivated. The fumigated area was not the town's local urban beach, but two kilometers away from the point where any children would have been using the beach.

Indeed it has emerged that one of the men responsible for the decision, the President of the Merchants Association, is a local hotelier; environmental groups believe the fumigation supposedly on behalf of children was, in fact, an attempt to “try to guarantee that the area is free of covid-19 for the summer” for economic purposes.

The area boasts some of the best wild beaches in Cádiz and faced with both the physical quarantine of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown it has caused, it seems plausible there is more to the fumigation than organisers have revealed.

Andalusian Government delegate for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Daniel Sánchez, has called for “a bit of good sense”. 

By Conor Faulkner

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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.