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COVID-19

IN PICS: Outdoor terraces reopen as lockdown eases across much of Spain

Spaniards returned to outdoor terraces at cafes and bars on Monday as around half of the country moved to the next phase of a gradual exit from one of Europe's strictest lockdowns.

IN PICS: Outdoor terraces reopen as lockdown eases across much of Spain
Photos: AFP

“I really missed this, now you value these little pleasures,” said Jesus Vazquez, a 51-year-old builder as he enjoyed a breakfast sandwich and beer in the sunshine outside a bar in the Mediterranean city of Tarragona.


Photo: AFP

The bar located on the city's high street had set out just five outdoor tables placed two metres (six feet) apart, and Vasquez shared a table with three co-workers including his son Alejandro. The four sat on the corners of the table to keep their distance.

Around half of Spain's population of 47 million live in regions where the lockdown restrictions were eased on Monday, with gatherings of up to 10 people allowed as well as travel within the same province.

Small shops, churches and museums are also allowed to open along with outdoor terraces as long as they limit their capacity.   

READ MORE: 

Alejandro said he couldn't wait to get out of work so he could finally meet up with his friends.

“We made plans to meet up after work and eat something. We are keen to meet, it's been two months since we have seen each other,” he said. 

Phased transition

Fearing a resurgence in cases if restrictions imposed in mid-March are lifted too quickly, the authorities decided that neither the capital Madrid nor Barcelona — the two worst affected regions — would be included on Monday in this first phase.   


Bar owner Luis cleans his outdoor seating area before opening for business in Guadalajara in Castilla La Mancha. 
Photo: AFP

A region can progress to the next phase depending on the evolution of the pandemic — which has claimed nearly 27,000 lives in Spain — as well as the capacity of its health care system to respond to a fresh wave of infections.

Spain on Monday recorded another 123 COVID-19 deaths, 20 fewer than on Sunday and down from 950 on April 2 when health experts believe the country's outbreak peaked.

One of the worst-hit countries, Spain plans a phased transition through to end-June to the end of its lockdown measures.    

Laia Sabate, 27, used her new-found freedom to meet with two friends to buy birthday treats for another friend.


Cafe owner Mario serves a customer in Guadalajara. Photo: AFP

“We went to a bakery, got some coffees and cakes to go and we brought them to his home before he had to go to work,” she said in one of Tarragona's main squares.

By AFP's Daniel Bosque

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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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