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COVID-19

LATEST: First beaches reopen as lockdown eases across Spain

Coronavirus lockdown measures will finally be eased for people in Madrid and Barcelona from Monday, while elsewhere in Spain the first beaches are due to reopen.

LATEST: First beaches reopen as lockdown eases across Spain
A police officer patrols Barceloneta beach. Photos: AFP

Residents in the two cities can now meet in groups of up to 10 people in their homes or on the terraces of bars and restaurants.   

The gates of the capital's parks will also be reopened, and major museums will be able to receive a limited number of visitors.    

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The Madrid and Barcelona regions, the most populated in the country, and a large part of Castile-Leon in the northwest are moving into the first phase of Spain's four-phase deconfinement programme, following what has been one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.

These regions have been on a slower deconfinement track as they bore the brunt of the pandemic in Spain, which has killed more than 28,700 people to date, one of the world's highest tolls.

Bars prepare to open their terraces in Madrid's Plaza Mayor. Photo: AFP

Everyone must continue to wear a mask, which is already compulsory in buildings and on public streets when it is not possible to keep a distance of two metres (six feet).

The rest of the country meanwhile — 22 million out of Spain's 47 million inhabitants — is moving on to the second phase, which is expected to last until the end of June.

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Restaurants may then reopen to a limited number of customers, and outings for walks or sports will no longer be limited to certain hours of the day.    

As the summer heat arrives, beaches on the Atlantic Ocean coast and in much of Andalusia, as well as on the Balearic and Canary Islands, are open for swimming, subject to safety measures.

The health ministry recommends limiting the number of visitors to the beaches, creating boundaries and spacing umbrellas four metres apart.    

Only locals will benefit for the time being. Travel between regions is still forbidden and new arrivals to Spain must quarantine for 14 days.   

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But the government plans to reopen the borders to foreign tourists in July.   

The lockdown, in force since mid-March, has been among the most severe in the world.

In the first few weeks, Spaniards could hardly set foot outside and their children were kept indoors.   

Many residents have become impatient over the government's slow and cautious process of lifting the restrictions.

Thousands of people protested on Saturday by car in major Spanish cities at the call of the far-right Vox party.

Drivers honked their horns, waved Spanish flags and banged on pots and pans to denounce the management of the coronavirus crisis by the left-wing government of Pedro Sanchez.

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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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