IN PICS: Barcelona reopens its beaches…and draws the crowds

Barcelona reopened its beaches and parks on Wednesday in a slight easing of restrictions to allow people to take a stroll or exercise.

Barcelona city authorities relaxed restrictions on its beaches allowing people to walk or exercise on the beach throughout the day from Wednesday.

And by the look of the images, a lot of residents made a beeline for the beach.

Photos clearly show people sunbathing despite the ban. Photo taken on May 20th by Lluis Gene / AFP

Barcelona is still technically in Phase 0 of lockdown although there was some easing of restrictions this week to allow small businesses to open without need for previous appointment. 

“Let's enjoy the beach responsibly. Remember that no swimming, sunbathing nor group sports are allowed,” tweeted the city's police.   

However, many people could be seen lying in the sun or having a coffee on the sand, an AFP correspondent said, with police largely turning a blind eye.   

Photo taken on May 20th by Lluis Gene / AFP

“I haven't seen the sea for two months,” said Helena Prades, a 43-year-old psychologist sitting on the sand with a colleague, both wearing masks.   

“We just really wanted to hear the sound of the waves and walk for a bit along the sand.”

The city also opened its parks that have been closed since the start of the March 14th lockdown, such as Park Guell which was designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.

Earlier in the week a video showing outdoor exercise activities on the broadwalk in Barceloneta at 8am went viral, not least for the bizarre technique of one fitness enthusiast who was dubbed “the lizard”. 

Rules concerning beach use had been confusing with mixed messages at the start of the week, with some city officials stating sunbathing would be allowed as long as social distancing was maintained and others insisting it would not. 

Guidelines tweeted by the official City Hall account stated that only those who lived within 1 km from the beach would be allowed to use it, during the hours stipulated in the timetable according to age, and for a maximum of one hour. 

The regulations on the City Hall website elaborated on the rules. 

No sunbathing or “recreational bathing” allowed although swimming in the sea as a form of exercise is allowed. 

Between 6am and 10 am the beach can be used by anyone who is resident in Barcelona municipality for exercise purpose but during the rest of the day can only be accessed  – during the timetable set for your age group – by those who live within 1km radius of the beach itself.  

An older man walks along the beach during the hour reserved for the over 70s. Photo taken on May 20th by Lluis Gene / AFP

That means 10 -12 in the morning and between 7pm and 8pm in the evening for the over 70s and other vulnerable groups, while children will have access with one adult during the hours of 12 noon and 7pm. 

After 8pm Barcelona's Mar Bella beach is reserved for professional athletes and surfers. 

The other condition is that the beaches can only be reached by foot or bicycle – people are not allowed to get there by private car or public transport.

And of course social distancing must be observed and from Thursday masks must be worn if a distance of 2 metres cannot be kept 




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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.