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LATEST: Catalonia orders closure of bars and restaurants to stop coronavirus spread

The Spanish region of Catalonia became the latest region to order new restrictions amid a surge of new diagnosed coronavirus cases.

LATEST: Catalonia orders closure of bars and restaurants to stop coronavirus spread
Photo: AFP

The restrictions were approved by the Catalan government on Wednesday.

“The measures will come into force overnight Thursday to Friday and willremain in place for an initial 15 days,” said interim regional leader Pere Aragones, describing the measure as “painful but necessary”.

The measures which have yet to be unveiled fully will see the closure of bars and restaurants except to offer home delivery and takeaway food.

“The bars and restaurants will only be able to serve food for take away; consumption on the premises and terrazas is suspended,” he said identifying these spaces as the place where people lower their guard, remove their masks and interact.

The restrictions will also see partial closing of children playgrounds and parks and reduced capacity at shopping centres, gyms, cinemas and theatres.

Gyms will see their capacity reduced to 50 percent and only for those with prior bookings while cinemas and theatres will only be able to offer half the number of seats.

Shopping centres and shops of over 400 sq/m will only be allowed to welcome 30 percent of the number of customers at any one time.

Playgrounds will close at 8pm.

The Generalitat is also expected to recommend employees work from home where possible, according to a report in the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, and to ask citizens to only make necessary journeys from home.

The measures are designed to “stop the curve”, he said and to avoid having to demand a total lockdown as was put in place during the nationwide state of alarm in March where residents across Spain were confined to their homes.  

The latest data for Catalonia published by the regional health authority showed that the cumulative incidence rate of the last 14 days had risen to 263 cases per 100,000 inhabitants posing “an extremely high risk” explained Aragonés.

This is far below the infection rate in Madrid where regional authorities have fought against a city wide confinement forcing the government to impose a State of Emergency on the capital.

Catalonia  initially struggled with a rise in infections as the second wave took hold over the summer, but appeared to get a handle on the situation after ordering people to stay home in Barcelona and other cities.

Although restrictions were eased after the outbreak was brought under control, the number of infections has once again risen sharply in recent days.   

“Action is needed today to avoid a full lockdown in the coming weeks,” Aragones said.

“We have decided to apply restrictions where most people let their guard down,” he said, acknowledging it would be “difficult for the restaurant sector”.

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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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