‘Don’t speak’: Catalonia asks public transport users in bid to stop Covid infections

Catalonia’s regional government has asked all public transport users in the region to refrain from speaking, eating and drinking to prevent further Covid-19 infections.

'Don't speak': Catalonia asks public transport users in bid to stop Covid infections
Photo: AFP

Since Monday November 9th, people using the underground, train, tram or bus in Catalonia will be encouraged to adopt this safety measure. 

Trains belonging to the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat network will also include a “silent carriage”, in which not speaking will be required rather than encouraged.

Catalonia’s Minister of Territory and Sustainability Damià Calvet told local radio RAC1that if necessary an extra silent carriage would be added to each train to further encourage people to essentially keep their mouths closed and avoid the release of saliva particles which may contain Covid-19.

Calvet reiterated that not speaking, eating or drinking on Catalonia’s public transport was just a recommendation and not an obligation.

Catalonia’s metro and bus networks will not include a silent carriage as there are no separated sections as is the case with trains, but the recommendation of not speaking, eating or drinking while on board is now signposted and broadcasted through the vehicle's megaphone.

Public transport usage in the region is currently “low” according to Calvet, with 50 to 60 percent of normal capacity on work days and 70 to 80 percent on weekends.

The minister stressed that the problem is not public transport, but rather the rush hour.

There are reports that in Barcelona in particular the large volume of public transport users in the morning makes it impossible for travellers to keep a secure distance between each other.

A Barcelona metro user replies to a tweet by local transport authorities regarding a longer-lasting disinfectant they've started using by sharing a picture of a packed carriage, stating “What's the use if the metro is packed?”.

“We can’t put put more trains and buses into service,” Calvet said.

“What we have to do is spread the rush hour out, so that not everyone uses public transport between eight and nine o’ clock in the morning.”

Back in October, Spain’s Health Ministry said the Catalan capital should reduce its public transport capacity by 30 percent as a means of curbing infections.

Catalonia’s regional government imposed a perimeter confinement beginning October 30th and lasting for 15 days.

A curfew is also in place from 10pm to 6am and all restaurants and bars throughout the region have been closed except for take away services.

In a measure designed to limit movement over weekends people are not allowed to travel beyond the limits of the town or city they reside in between Friday 12 am and Sunday 12pm.

As of November 10th, ICU admissions in Catalonia are on the up although the region’s R rate is below 1 and is currently slowing down.

There have been more than 300,000 Covid-19 infections in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million inhabitants, since the pandemic began.  

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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.