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Spain’s MPs vote to extend state of emergency measures for a further two weeks

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez won parliamentary backing to extend the lockdown for another two weeks Wednesday, despite opposition from his rightwing opponents and protests against his minority coalition government.

It was the fifth time the state of emergency has been renewed, meaning the restrictions will remain in force until June 6th in a measure passed by 177 votes in favour, 162 against and 11 abstentions.

The measure has allowed the government to impose a strict lockdown on Spain's nearly 47 million population, significantly limiting the freedom of movement to fight the epidemic which has now claimed 27,888 lives.

But the government's management of the crisis has drawn a barrage of criticism from righwing parties who have denounced its “brutal confinement”, while several hundred protesters have hit the streets demanding “freedom” and Sanchez's resignation.   

“It's the Spanish people who have stopped the virus together… nobody has the right to squander what we've achieved during these long weeks of confinement,” Sanchez told lawmakers.

The street protests have been backed by the far-right Vox and the main rightwing opposition People's Party (PP), whose leader Pablo Casado didn't mince his words in the pre-vote debate.

“You are the epitome of chaos and the worst thing is that you are unable to protect the Spanish people without resorting to this brutal confinement,” he said.

But the government says the March 14th state of emergency has allowed it to battle the epidemic and dramatically reduce the daily death toll which by Wednesday had fallen to 95 — a far cry from the 950 registered on April 2nd.

But Sanchez said the fight wasn't over and that extending the restrictions was “the only possible way to effectively fight the virus”, saying there were still “hundreds of new cases every day”.

From Thursday, it will be obligatory to wear masks in public where social distancing is not possible, officials said on Wednesday.   

Already compulsory on public transport, the new decree applies to everyone aged six and over.

As the severity of the epidemic has eased, Spain has begun a cautious, staged rollback of the lockdown which is due to finish by late June.   

Despite the anti-government protests, a survey published on Tuesday by the state-run Centre for Sociological Studies suggested 95 percent of Spaniards supported the lockdown and 60 percent believed it should be extended.

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FACE MASKS

Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Spain's Health Minister has announced that in the coming days masks will no longer be mandatory on planes, buses, trains, taxis and other means of public transport.

Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday confirmed that face masks would no longer be compulsory on public transport, a measure which has been in place in Spain for almost three years. 

“I will raise the proposal of eliminating the mandatory use of masks on public transport”, she said, adding that next week she will convene with the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System to “put this measure into effect”.  

Darias did not specify exactly when this would happen, although government agreements are usually approved the following day in the Official State Gazette (BOE), so the official end to the mask rule looks set to be on February 8th.

The minister did clarify however that masks would still be mandatory in health settings such as health centres and hospitals “as health experts advise”. 

Last week, Darias reported the possibility of eliminating the mandatory mask rule in pharmacies, but this is currently being “weighed up” by health experts.  

Manuel Franco, an expert in Public Health and a member of the Spanish Society of Public Health and Sanitary Administration (Sespas) explained that “the World Health Organisation (WHO) is already considering the decision to lift the public health emergency warning for Covid-19” and adds that “if this goes ahead, it would make no sense to maintain the mask rule”.  

The use of masks ceased to be mandatory outdoors almost a year ago, on February 10th, 2022.

Then, two months later on April 20th, the government announced they wouldn’t be required indoors either, except in health centres and on public transport. 

The latest bulletin of Sentinel Surveillance of Acute Respiratory Infection in Primary Care (ARIs) and in Hospitals (SARI), announced a drop in infections and hospitalisations and said that the rates for Covid-19 remain stable.

The decision to end the mask rule in February comes after health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health said that masks should no longer be required on public transport

On Wednesday, January 25th the director of the Health Alerts and Emergencies Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health (CCAES), Fernando Simón, assured that the end of the mask rule on transport would be announced “shortly” either “next week or the following”.  

Then, on Thursday morning, government spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, stated that the decision to remove the mask on public transport would be taken “immediately, when possible”, but pointed out that the government was looking at the situation in China first. 

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