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COVID-19

Spain calls in army to help curb virus second wave

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced that some 2,000 soldiers would be deployed in the worst hit areas of Spain to help track cases.

Spain calls in army to help curb virus second wave
File photo of soldiers helping out at a Madrid hospital during lockdown in March. Photo: AFP

In a live press conference on Tuesday held after the first cabinet meeting following the summer break, the premier admitted that the evolution of the coronavirus was “worrying”.

He insisted that powers would remain with the regional governments – effectively ruling out a new state of emergency where the central government would take control – but said extra help would be made available to regional authorities.

The first of these would be deploying 2,000 soldiers to help out in the tracking process –  identifying those who may have come in contact with infected persons.

“Regions that do not have enough trackers can count on the help of the Armed Forces,” Sanchez insisted after experts blamed a lack of virus trackers for a surge in COVID-19 infections in several Spanish regions such as Madrid and Catalonia

He reminded regional authorities that they could ask the central government to apply a state of emergency, which would allow it to limit people's movements, on part or all of its territory. 

The Basque Country took the step to declare a state of emergency earlier this month.

While the rise in infections in Spain is “worrying”, it is “far from the situation in mid-March”, Sanchez said.

“We can't let the pandemic to once again take control of our lives… we must take control and halt this second curve.”   

Sanchez urged Spaniards to use a smartphone app designed by the government called RadarCovid which can identify people who have crossed paths with a contagious patient and alert them so they can get tested or be quarantined.

Infections have risen sharply since Spain lifted the lockdown, but deaths have been much lower than during the epidemic's peak.   

The country has more than 400,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease, the highest in western Europe, and one of the fastest growth rates on the continent.

Nearly 29,000 people have officially died, one of the world's highest tolls, although the deaths recorded are only those who tested postive for covid at hospitals. The true figure, which is includes those who died untested at nursing homes and in their own homes, is thought to be much higher.

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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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