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COVID-19

Catalonia orders lockdown for 160,000 residents after surge in new Covid-19 cases

About 160,000 people in Catalonia returned to home confinement on Wednesday as authorities tried to control a fresh surge in coronavirus infections in the area. The region saw nearly 1,000 cases in the previous 24 hours.

Catalonia orders lockdown for 160,000 residents after surge in new Covid-19 cases
A man wearing a face mask walks in Lerida (Lleida) on July 13, 2020. A local court suspended a home confinement order imposed on more than 200,000 people in the Spanish region of Catalonia after an up
Catalonia, which registered three deaths and 938 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours,  was at the centre of a new surge in outbreaks across Spain.  
 
There were 250 cases in the city of Barcelona on Wednesday, 144 more than the day before.  
 
After days of legal wrangling and political tensions over the issue, a judge finally approved the regional government's order to stay at home in the city of Lleida and six nearby towns in the west of the region  on Tuesday night. 
 
Under the new rules, people may only leave their homes for essential activities like working or buying supplies, while hotels, restaurants and bars will close except for food pick-up or delivery. 
 
The regional government is refusing to use the term lockdown given that  the measures are not as restrictive as those imposed months ago by the central  government at the height of the country's outbreak. 
 
“People can go for a walk and exercise and all the shops will be open,” Catalan government spokeswoman Meritxell Budo said on Tuesday.
 
Moves to reconfine the local population to their homes triggered a legal standoff on Monday when a local court blocked the new lockdown order, prompting the regional government to enact legislative changes. 
 
In the end, the court agreed overnight to allow the measure for 15 days while demanding that the regional authorities provide regular updates on the status of the outbreak. 
 
Catalan authorities are also watching other pockets of infection in this wealthy northeastern region, notably advising that the residents of three districts of Hospitalet de Llobregat — a city with 260,000 residents — only leave home for urgent necessities.
 
Spain, one of the worst-hit nations in Europe by COVID-19, has seen more than 28,000 deaths from the pandemic. 
 
 
Since the government ended lockdown on 21 June, there has been a surge in coronavirus cases, with 170 clusters of infections across the country, prompting regional authorities to impose a patchwork of local lockdowns and restrictions. 
 
In many cases, these restrictions have confused local people and angered businesses.

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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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