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CHRISTMAS

What are the planned restrictions for Catalonia this Christmas?

Seeing off in style a pretty terrible 2020 won’t be without its challenges in Catalonia this festive season, with the regional government announcing a number of restrictions that will affect family gatherings and other Christmas traditions from December 21st until January 4th.

What are the planned restrictions for Catalonia this Christmas?
A packed Barcelona street during Christmas in 2019; a scene we don't expect to see this year. Photo: AFP

Family dinners and meetings

Catalonia’s Department of Health will allow a maximum of ten people to gather for family get-togethers this Christmas, the equivalent of two ‘regular coexistence’ bubbles.

This unfortunately means people in Catalonia won’t be able to see all their extended family at a large gathering this Christmas and will not be able to organise a big party for New Year’s.

Open borders and curfew

The Catalan government has finally backtracked and decided to allow people to enter and leave the region over the Christmas period, after their initial closed borders policy was highly criticised for not allowing families and friends to spend Christmas together.

Catalonia’s closed borders measure in place currently will be lifted on December 21st. 

If you’re planning to leave Catalonia to spend Christmas somewhere else in Spain or abroad, you will have to check the measures of the place you are going to.

The perimetral confinement at weekends will be between areas (comarcas) rather than municipalities until December 21st, when this will also be scrapped. 

It will also be possible to go on a skiing holiday in nearby Andorra, although temperature checks and capacity limits will apply to anyone wanting to hit the slopes.

Catalonia’s curfew will however remain in place over ‘Nadal’, so from 10 pm to 6 am people have to stay indoors.
That means not ringing in the New Year outdoors as is often the case in Catalonia and in Spain. 

Christmas mass

The traditional “Misa del Gallo” Catholics celebrate around midnight on Christmas Eve will have a reduced capacity of 30 percent, with a maximum of 100 people allowed to gather at each mass.

Many services are likely to be brought forward to allow churchgoers to return home before curfew starts.

Eating out

Starting on Monday November 23rd, the regional government will allow bars and restaurants to reopen, although only until 9:30 pm and with a limit indoors of 30 percent of their capacity. By December 7th this will be increased to 50 percent.

Outdoor terraces will be allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity after Catalonia’s hospitality industry spoke out against the regional government’s initial Christmas restrictions plan.

There will still have to be a 2.5 metre separation between tables and only four people per table, unless they are more people who form part of the same coexistence 'bubble' (for example, parents with three or more children).

If you’re meeting friends or family for a drink or coffee, it can only be until 18.30 as from that time onwards only meals will be served. 

Restaurants won’t be allowed to host the traditional company dinners at Christmas nor New Year's Eve dinners.

Christmas shopping and plans

From December 7th, cinemas, theatres and concert halls will be allowed to open at 70 percent of their normal capacity, or a maximum of 500 people per venue.

Shops and markets will be able to open at 50 percent of their capacity whereas shopping centres will have to stick to a 30 percent limit and not have any common spaces in use.

On January 4th, shopping centres' allowed capacity will increase to 50 percent.

You still have to respect the curfew hours, but if for example the film you go to watch at the cinema ends at 9.45pm and you don’t have time to get home before 10pm, showing your ticket can serve as a valid justification if you get stopped by police.

Gyms will also be allowed to open at 30 percent of their usual capacity and with an appointment. 

For outdoors sports activities there’s a limit of 6 people (except for federated athletes) until December 21st.

Aside from the curfew dampening any hopes of late-night Christmas revelry, there are no plans for nightlife venues to reopen during the festive season.

Christmas parades

The traditional Three Wise Men parades (Cabalgatas de Reyes) on January 5th, the night before kids in Catalonia and all over Spain get the bulk of their presents, has regrettably (but understandably) been cancelled across cities and towns in the region.

Children will have to settle for seeing Gaspar, Melchior and Baltasar on TV this year.

Fortunately, other traditional Christmas events such as the Santa Llúcia market at the Sagrada Familia or the nativity scenes at the Museu Marés will be allowed to take place.

READ MORE: The eased restrictions that come into force in Catalonia on Monday November 23rd

The Catalan government will take stock of the region’s infection rates every 15 days to determine whether any measure from their 4-tier de-escalation plan should be changed (the Christmas period from December 21st until January 4th is phase 3).

The measures above are valid as of November 21st but Procicat, the Catalan government handling the pandemic, has tweaked and changed measures previously without necessarily sticking to the two-week rule.

A poll by regional daily La Vanguardia found that 93 percent of readers believed that the local Generalitat government hadn’t handled measures in the region properly.  

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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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