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Too little too late: What Spanish experts say about Madrid restrictions

As the city of Madrid introduced new restrictions to curb the soaring rate of infections, Spanish experts warned the measures were too little, too late and would be very difficult to implement.

Too little too late: What Spanish experts say about Madrid restrictions
Photo: AFP

The partial lockdown, which will also apply to nine other nearby towns, will come into force at 10:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Friday with people only allowed to leave the city limits for work, school or medical and legal reasons.

Madrid's regional authorities have criticised the restrictions on citizens' movements as too stringent, but for healthcare experts, they simply don't go far enough.

“For all epidemiologists, these restrictions are coming very late, they should have been put in place much earlier, by the start of September,” said Salvador Peiro of FISABIO, a healthcare research organisation in the Valencia area.

Closing off the perimeter was a measure which was “very easy to implement in certain towns but very hard in large cities” such as Madrid, he said, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of people travel every day, often on public transport, to work in nearby towns.   

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Fernando Garcia, an epidemiologist at the Madrid public health association, expressed surprise they “did not include a recommendation to work from home” as during the three-month lockdown that started in March.

And he thought the restrictions on seating capacity in bars and restaurants — reduced to 50 percent indoors and 60 percent at terraces — should have been greater.

Others said merely reducing mobility was not enough given the scarcity of track-and-trace resources, with the Madrid authorities urgently requesting military help.

Madrid is currently struggling with an infection rate of 730 cases per 100,000 people, compared with just 300 per 100,000 in the rest of Spain – which in itself is the highest in the European Union.

According to the government decree published on Thursday, restrictions must be imposed on all areas that have counted more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days — but experts said the rate should be lower.

A threshold of 500 cases per 100,000 people was far “too high”, said Ildefonso Hernández of the Spanish Public Health Society (Sespas).   

In Germany, he said, limitations on social gatherings kicked in with a rate of 35 cases per 100,000.

And in the UK the trigger rate for restrictions was 100 cases per 100,000.    

Even within the rest of Spain, limitations have been put in place much earlier in regions like Asturias, Galicia and Valencia, where they kicked in with an incidence of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people.   

The virus has now killed nearly 32,000 people in Spain according to official figures which only include those who died after testing positive and not the thousands more thought to have perished in care centres and private homes without being tested. It has infected around 760,000.

By AFP's Thomas Perroteau

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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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