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COVID-19

Spain’s parliament approves fourth extension to state of emergency

Spain's parliament on Wednesday voted to extend the country's state of emergency, allowing stringent coronavirus lockdown measures to remain in place for at least two more weeks.

Spain's parliament approves fourth extension to state of emergency
Photo: AFP

The government imposed a nation-wide lockdown nearly eight weeks ago to curb the outbreak, which has killed more than 25,000 people and infected over 220,000 in the country — one of the hardest hit in the world. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that abruptly ending the strict lockdown would be “unforgivable”, ahead of a parliamentary vote Wednesday to further extend the state of emergency.

“Ignoring the risk posed by the epidemic and lifting the state of emergency very quickly would be absolutely wrong, a total, unforgivable error,” he said.   

Despite efforts by his right-wing opponents to block the move, parliament approved the extension by 178 votes in favour to 75 votes against, with 97 abstentions.

It was the fourth time the measure had been approved, meaning the restrictions will now remain in place until May 23rd as Spain slowly moves through a staged rollback of the lockdown.

A state of emergency was first declared on March 14th in Spain, allowing the government to roll out confinement measures for its nearly 47 million citizens.   

The country has only recently started ease some restrictions, allowing children outdoors and adults to leave the house to exercise.    

Some small businesses have also been permitted to receive customers with a prior appointment.

“We have limited freedom of movement and the freedom to gather, that is certain. But we've done it to save lives,” Sanchez said.   

He insisted it was “the only way to guarantee a gradual and prudent transition” out of the lockdown.

The latest daily toll on Wednesday showed a slight increase in deaths, rising to 244 after three days when it stayed below 200 — a far cry from the 950 deaths of April 2 when the epidemic peaked.

“We are progressing very well,” said Fernando Simon, head of the health ministry's emergencies department.

“It would be very sad if through leaving the lockdown faster than recommended we lost everything we've worked for.”   

Earlier this week, Spain's main opposition Popular Party said it would not support any extension of the state of emergency.   

But thanks to backing from the centre-right Ciudadanos and the Basque PNV, the government got enough support to push through the measure.     

Last week, the government unveiled plans for a four-phase transition out of the lockdown that is to be completed by the end of June, with the country already engaged in the first preparatory stage.

READ MORE: A guide to Spain's lockdown rules during Phase Zero

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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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