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COVID-19

Smoking ban extended to whole of Spain and nightclubs to close

Spain has announced that it will close discos and nightclubs, and ban smoking in the street, as it stepped up restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Smoking ban extended to whole of Spain and nightclubs to close
Spain to ban smoking in public. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Health Minister Salvador Illa on Friday unveiled a raft of new measures to be enforced nationwide as the country battled a surge in the disease, with nearly 3,000 new cases in 24 hours reported on Thursday.

In a bid to rein in the spread of Covid-19, discos, nightclubs and dancing halls will be shut. Restaurants and bars will be required to close by 1am, with no new guests allowed in from midnight.

There is now also a ban on smoking on the street, where a distance cannot be maintained – which is in line with World Health Organisation recommendations. The ban was already announced in Galicia on August 13th and the in the Canary Islands from August 14th. 

“I announce that we have decided to adopt coordinated actions in public health for the first time and these measures have been unanimously accepted,” said the Health Minister.

Spain's bans smoking in public
Spain bans smoking in public. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP

Regional authorities will be required to carry out testing among groups of the population that are particularly at risk, and in the built-up areas hard hit by the disease, but the health ministry gave no timetable for these measures to come into force.

Meetings have also been again limited to 10 people, reported El Pais

“These measures are a minimum, not a maximum. Communities can take more restrictive measures,” Illa pointed out.

A total of 28,605 people have died so far from coronavirus in Spain, which declared a state of emergency between March 14th and June 21st that allowed the central government to impose restrictions nationwide.

When the state of alarm lifted, autonomy was handed back to the regional authorities.

The health ministry has had to negotiate with them to impose the new measures on a nationwide basis.

Spain has a population of 47 million and the infection rate of 110 cases per 100,000 inhabitants is higher than in other Western European countries. 

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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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