LATEST: Spain’s regions tighten restrictions as experts call for new lockdown

Spain is in the grip of a third wave of coronavirus infections with experts warning that the worst yet to come.

LATEST: Spain's regions tighten restrictions as experts call for new lockdown
Catalan police at a checkpoint on Barcelona's city limits. Photo: AFP A

The Health Ministry reported 25,438 new infections on Tuesday and added 408 victims to the overall death toll.

The average cumulative incidence rate across Spain has doubled within 22 days from 224.88 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days on December 21st to 454 cases on Tuesday.

The latest data reveals that the number of new cases being admitted into hospitals across Spain have soared by 64 percent since Christmas Eve with those being treated in Intensive Care Units rising by 39 percent.

Health Minister Salvador Illa called the data “very worrying” on Tuesday. “Tough weeks are ahead,” he added, saying that “January will be very complicated.”

While the government has ruled out imposing a national lockdown similar to that seen at the start of the pandemic in March, regional authorities are revising restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of infections as hospitals near breaking point.

Health authorities in the Basque Country on Wednesday confined residents to within their own municipalities while in La Rioja all non-essential businesses were ordered to close at 5pm and group meetings limited to four people.

Galicia has limited meetings to a maximum of 4 people, banned all non-essential travel in its seven largest cities, told bars and restaurants to close at 4pm and brought the curfew in the northwestern region forward to 10pm.

Navarra has brought forward the curfew from 10pm to 9pm and banned smoking in terraces and outside bars.

Castilla y Leon which has closed its borders until May, has told all its citizens to avoid unnecessary contacts.

Meanwhile, Murcia and the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza now allow only people from the same household to meet.

Andalusia has said it announce stricter new measures on Friday.

For the latest restrictions in each region, check the interactive map produced by Spain's government below:

Medics and epidemiology experts across Spain are calling for a new lockdown in a bid to control the new wave of infections.

“We have no  other choice but to restrict social interaction and for there to be a confinement for at least two weeks in order to slam on the brakes,” insisted Alberto Infante, professor in international health at Madrid's Escuela Nacional de Sanidad del Instituto Carlos III during an interview with Cadena Ser's 'Hoy por Hoy'.

“The situation is very bad and is getting worse,” warned Daniel López-Acuña, a former director of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO) who said that we are only seeing the results of Christmas and New Year infections and have those of Kings’ Day to come. “We are not going to flatten the curve with timid measures,” he told El Pais.

Doctors in Murcia have called for authorities to impose a home confinement of at least two weeks as a “circuit breaker” to tackle the third wave.

“We understand that home confinement is a last resort that entails a deprivation of citizens’ rights that no-one wants,” said an open letter from Murcia’s College of Physicians.

“But the situation is very serious and we have to be aware that the fight against the virus demands the effort and commitment of all to avoid more victims, suffering and the total collapse of our healthcare system.”



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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.