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‘If we didn’t have the virus, we will now’: Madrid teachers complain over testing debacle

Madrid has had to rethink plans to give all teaching staff coronavirus antibody tests ahead of the new academic year after crowds made social distancing impossible.

'If we didn't have the virus, we will now': Madrid teachers complain over testing debacle
Queues stretch outside a school in Madrid where teachers were sent for testing. Photo: AFP

Teachers were yesterday informed that they could turn up for antibody tests at one of five different testing stations set up at schools across the capital.

Thousands of staff were given appointments between Wednesday and Monday ahead of schools reopening to pupils next week.

The surprise initiative has been introduced by Madrid’s regional government as part of a raft of measures designed to keep staff and children safe when schools reopen in the face of a secondwave of infections that has hit the capital.

The move to carry out widespread testing was broadly welcomed by teachers unions until it became apparent that multiple appointments had been issued for the same time slot resulting in huge crowds of teachers waiting for tests.

Some reported waiting for up to two hours to get the tests and being squeezed together on pavements while they waited in the hottest part of the day.

 

 “If a teacher didn’t have the coronavirus when they arrived, they will be infected now,” quipped one teacher outside the IES Virgen de la Paloma school and quoted in El Confidencial on Wednesday  

“What are parents going to think when they see their children's teachers crowding together without any type of social distancing?” he asked.

Others questioned the wisdom of gathering large groups of teachers together in five places instead of sending health professionals to individual schools to carry out testing of staff, who went back to work on Monday to plan lessons and organise classrooms ahead of the start of the academic year.

 

By lunchtime, education authorities called off the testing and told people queuing to return to their schools. The appointments would be rescheduled and testing hours extended, according to Ministry of Education statement.

One teacher explained that they were given an appointment for 10:30am and arrived at the designated testing centre at 10:15am only to discover there was already a line of people stretching 1.5km from the door.

“By 1pm I was still 500metres from the entrance,” explained a teacher named Maria quoted in El Mundo.

The debacle will do little to improve relations between teachers and an administration that has already been criticised for failing to properly inform and prepare teachers ahead of the start of the school year.

Madrid regional authorities said they were committed to carrying out testing on some 100,000 staff at schools in the capital.

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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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