Spain hopes France will keep border open despite Catalonia’s surge in Covid-19 cases

Spain’s Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto believes a resurgence in coronavirus cases in Catalonia shouldn't prompt the closure of its border with France.

Spain hopes France will keep border open despite Catalonia's surge in Covid-19 cases
Photo: AFP

Maroto said on Wednesday that a rise in coronavirus cases in Catalonia was coming under control, Reuters reported.

Despite new curbs being imposed on hundreds of thousands of residents in the region the minister hoped there would be no need for France to close the border. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Sunday did not rule out closing the border prompting concern in Spain where the epidemic has devastated the usual thriving tourism industry.

Tourism accounts for about 12% of Spain’s economic output.

“With the latest data we have in Aragon and Catalonia we are a bit more optimistic. Catalonia has already reduced the number of infections over the last three days,” Maroto told an event organised by Europa Press news agency. 

“Let’s hope that with this better data we don’t have to close a border that for us is very important for mobility with our European partners.” 

The French are particularly alarmed at clusters popping up in Catalonia.

READ ALSO: Spain's Covid-19 infection rate triples in just over two weeks

“We are monitoring this very closely, here in particular, because it is a real issue that we also need to discuss with the Spanish authorities,” French PM Castex said in response to a question about the possible closure of borders.

The border was reopened on June 21 after three months of strict confinement on the Spanish side to contain the pandemic.

Authorities in Barcelona have cut the number of people allowed onto the city’s beaches and urged four million residents to stay at home. Despite the advice crowds flocked to beach resorts at the weekend. 

Health Minister Salvador Illa told parliament there are 224 active coronavirus clusters in Spain, mostly linked to parties, family events and fruit harvesting. 

He said the situation in Catalonia and Aragon was worrying: “We shouldn’t be afraid of the virus but we also shouldn’t lose respect for it,” Illa told lawmakers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Spain is the only EU country (apart from Luxembourg) where the number of coronavirus cases is on the up, a rise of 103 percent in its cumulative infection incidence over a 14-day period. 

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Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Spanish health experts have advised the government that the use of masks should no longer be obligatory on public transport, but no concrete date has yet been set.

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health have said that masks should no longer be mandatory on public transport, but with the caveat that the government should first wait and observe the epidemiological situation in China, which has experienced a surge in case numbers since it abandoned its strict ‘Zero Covid’ strategy at the end of 2022, following widespread civil unrest.

The use of masks on public transport has now been the norm in Spain for almost three years, since the start of the pandemic. 

Speaking to Ser Canarias, Darias said: “We are getting closer and closer [to the end of having to wear a mask], but we will have to see how things evolve in order to make that decision; obviously the epidemiological situation is getting better and better, but we have to see how the issue of China evolves”. 

Reports in the Spanish press suggest some kind of agreement was made during a meeting between the government and the experts in December that masks would no longer be compulsory after assessing the situation in China, however, there is still no fixed date.

Back in October 2022, Spain’s ‘Emergency Unit’ suggested that mask rules would not be reviewed until March 2023 at the earliest, but more recently it said that it does not seem necessary to wait for March to remove the mask rule. 

According to recent Ministry of Health figures, just 2.79 percent of hospital beds in Spain are taken up by Covid-19 patients.

READ ALSO: Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

The use of masks indoors in Spain ceased to be mandatory on April 20th, 2022, after almost two years, however, they have remained mandatory in hospitals, pharmacies and, crucially, also on buses, metro, trains, planes and taxis.

While the mask rules have been strictly enforced in some places in Spain such as Seville and Valencia, in other cities such as Barcelona, many people refuse to wear them, despite the regulations still officially being in place. 

READ ALSO: Spain now requires Covid certificates for arrivals from China

In China, figures suggest that almost 60,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in a single month amid the spike in cases following the end of the country’s draconian restrictions. In response, Spain reintroduced health control checks for travellers arriving from China. 

It seems that Darias and the Spanish government are waiting to see how the situation plays out in China first, but all the indications and expert advice seems to suggest that masks will no longer be mandatory in public transport sometime very soon.