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COVID-19

Lifting lockdown: These are the provinces in Spain advancing to Phase 1

More than half the population of Spain will be able to enjoy new freedoms from Monday as Spain’s government announced the provinces which would advance to Phase 1 of the ‘plan to transition to the new normal’.

Lifting lockdown: These are the provinces in Spain advancing to Phase 1
Map of the provinces with the light tone moving to Phase 1 and the darker remaining in Phase 0. Map: Moncloa

Health Minister Salvador Illa and Health Emergency Coordinator Fernando Símon appeared in a televised press conference on Friday evening to announce which provinces would be able to lift a series of restrictions on May 11th.

Illa said that some 51 percent of the Spanish population live in provinces that will move to Phase 1 on Monday.

The map shows in light blue the provinces that can advance to Phase 1, while the darker shade represents those provinces that will remain in Phase Zero for at least another week.

All of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands will see the next stage of restrictions lifted as well as Spain's two North African city enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta. Much of northern Spain will also pass into phase 1 including the whole region of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country, La Rioja, Navarra and Aragon.

In Castilla La Mancha, two of the five provinces – Cuenca and Guadalajara – will move forward to Phase 1 while Toledo, Albacete and Ciudad Real will remain in Phase Zero.

But only some parts of some provinces in Catalonia, Castilla y Leon and Valencia will be moving forward on Monday after different Health Authoritiy zones were established beyond provincial borders.

Moncloa have produced an interactive map to help work out exactly what these are: 

But the Madrid region, which has recorded a third of the country's 26,299 coronavirus-linked deaths, was excluded.

It was rebuffed despite the regional government requesting the central administration relax the capital's lockdown, which led to a dispute over which Madrid's top health official reportedly resigned.   

“We felt it was not appropriate to move to the next phase… This is not a race,” said Health Minister Salvador Illa.

The second most-affected region Catalonia including its capital Barcelona will also have to wait, but it had not requested measures to be eased.

In Andalusia, the provinces of Malaga and Granada will remain in Phase Zero while the other provinces will move into the next phase, which allows gatherings of up to ten people and for restaurants and bars to open tables outside.

A full breakdown of the new measures allowed under Phase 1 will be published in the Official State Bulletin (BOE) on Saturday, said Illa, but some guidelines have already been announced. 

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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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