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What you need to know about Spain’s restrictions on cloth face masks

The Spanish government wants to prevent ineffective material or cloth face masks from being sold to the public. Here’s what we know about the stricter rules for their sale.

What you need to know about Spain's restrictions on cloth face masks
Photo: AFP

What’s the latest?

Spain is toughening its requirements for the manufacture and sale of face masks.

The country’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs is expected to approve an amendment on Thursday which would see cloth or material face masks sold to the public have to be 90 percent efficient to be considered face masks that can help prevent Covid-19 infections.

The government’s advice has up to now been to wear only certified (homologadas) face masks, mainly the surgical blue disposable ones and the cone-shaped FFP2 white ones (both 92 to 98 percent efficient), but it hasn't moved to prevent the sale of other material ones which are sold in shops. 

Why does this matter?

Until now all face masks sold in Spain which appeared to meet the general safety standards were allowed to be sold fairly freely, leading to a proliferation of cloth or material face masks which while more aesthetically pleasing – with colourful or personalised designs – were not necessarily as efficient as the medical ones.

So while the impending toughening of requirements doesn’t mean that all cloth or material face masks in Spain will cease to be sold because they’re inefficient, the ones that don’t meet the new standards can’t be sold as “hygienic” face masks, which could be deemed to be certified or surgical in standards.

Spain’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs says it does not have the power to completely “prohibit the sale of pieces of cloth with two rubber bands, but it can stop it from being sold as as a hygienic mask”.

The materials used to make the masks will also have to be tested before receiving official certification.

The Spanish government’s decision is still not quite as strict as that of Germany’s vis-à-vis face masks, where cloth or material face masks have been banned outright from all public spaces. In France, masks with less than 90 percent efficiency can’t be sold at all. 

Last September, the Basque Country decided to prevent access to hospitals and health centres in the region to anyone wearing a material face mask, but this never became a nationwide policy. 

What should I watch out for?

Accredited reusable cloth face masks should contain the code UNE 0065, which certifies that they’re 90 percent efficient, as well as other information such as the filtration abilities after being washed several times.

Masks can no longer be sold outside their original packaging.

According to the text, filters “should cover the largest possible surface of the mask, ensuring that no areas are left where inhaled/exhaled air can pass through unfiltered”.

Does that mean I have to stop wearing my cloth face mask?

No. Spain’s Health Ministry isn’t considering a ban on material face masks which have already been sold and are in circulation (although the fact that the government has moved towards having them banned should lead you to question their efficiency).

It’s the labs in charge of the face mask certification that must be accredited by the relevant authorities in Spain as well as the manufacturers who have to abide by the new rules.

Retailers of masks that have already put on sale but not sold will have 30 days to adapt to new measures, after which time they can no longer sell the face masks under the name 'hygienic masks'.

Both labs and retailers have to stick to the new rules or face sanctions or business closure.


 

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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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