Spain’s Valencia region puts brakes on lockdown easing after slight rise in infections

While Madrid and Catalonia request that their lockdown is eased, the region housing Valencia and Alicante has decided it shouldn’t enter Phase 2 of Spain’s “de-escalation” plan after infections rose slightly in the past week.

Spain’s Comunidad Valenciana has become the first region in the country to willingly decide it isn’t ready to enter the next phase of the country’s deconfinement plan. 

The eastern autonomous community of 4.9 million inhabitants had been given the green light to enter Phase 2 on Monday May 25th but regional authorities believe it is best for it to remain in Phase 1 for another week after a slight rise in infections from 0.66 to 0.85 percent.

The region’s health minister Ana Barceló told Spanish news agency Europa Press that although “the data is good” and the Valencian territory is “in a good state epidemiologically speaking”, the Valencian Generalitat government prefer to be cautious.

Under Phase 2 larger gatherings – from ten to 15 people – would be allowed to take place and large commercial centres would open for shoppers, although social distancing and hygiene measures would still be maintained.

Valencia’s reaction is in stark contrast to that of regional authorities such as Madrid’s, whose president Díaz Ayuso plans to hold Spain’s national government legally accountable for not allowing the capital to enter Phase 1.

Catalonia’s regional government also requested on Monday that Barcelona’s metropolitan area be allowed to enter Phase 1, which allows social gatherings of up to 10 people and other measures.

READ MORE: Lifting lockdown Phase 0.5 – What you can and can't do in Madrid and Barcelona

Valencian health Minister Barceló’s take has instead been one of considerable caution since the lockdown started to be eased, having said on May 8th: “People are taking it too easy. It isn’t my perception as a minister, I walk to work and I see how there are groups of people who are not respecting social distancing, that’s the perception of the citizens as well. We all see it. I concerns me.”

Valencia’s Ministry of Universal and Public Health has indicated that 19 new positive cases of the coronavirus have been registered in the past 24 hours in the Valencian Community, five deaths related to Covid-19 (none in care homes) and 165 new discharges from hospital.

These figures do not coincide according to Europa Press with those provided by the Ministry of Health, which has recorded 22 positive cases confirmed by PCR tests and two deaths in the last 24 hours, although the total number of confirmed positive cases in the Valencia region since the pandemic began is the same: 10,949. 

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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.