Spain has been one of the most pro-mask countries in Europe since the start of the pandemic, but the Spanish government and its research institutes are now weighing up when it should no longer be mandatory to wear one.
If you live in Spain, grabbing a mask before heading out is probably second nature by now.
Wearing a face mask in public has been mandatory since May 2020, with a few exceptions such as while eating or drinking at a bar or restaurant, or when doing sports outdoors in some places.
Buying mascarillas has become part of our weekly shop, they’ve been turned into fashion accessories and people caught not wearing one face fines ranging from €100 to €30,000 for serious cases.
For international tourists, the prospect of having to wear a mask while strolling along the beach or hiking in nature in Spain is also something that’s been met by plenty of criticism, even though the Spanish government slightly eased the measures so that at least mask-free sunbathing is allowed.
But after 11 months of sweaty mouths, steamed up glasses and impossible lip reading, some of you may be wondering when the use of facemasks won’t be mandatory anymore and we’ll all be able to breathe fresh air again.
When will mask usage no longer be mandatory in Spain?
“We will be able to not wear facemasks in public when 50 to 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, so it will depend on the rate of vaccination,” Rafael Ortí, head of the Spanish Society of Preventive Medicine, Public Health and Hygiene (Sempsph), told medical publication Redacción Médica.
“I would like to believe that this will be possible by the summer, in August.”
Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez removes his mask to deliver a speech. Photos: Javier Soriano/AFP
Other Sempsph members such as Julián Domínguez, head of the Preventive Medicine Service of the University Hospital of Ceuta, believes the wait to achieve 50 to 70 percent immunity in Spain will be longer.
“This could happen at the end of the year at the earliest,” Domínguez estimated.
“If the infection rate begins to decrease significantly, then not wearing a facemask should be considered in open public spaces ”, Domínguez has argued.
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As of April 26th, 8.14 percent of Spain’s population has received the full two-dose inoculation against Covid-19, as part of a vaccine campaign that began on December 27th 2020.
Up until now the Spanish government had only said on its Q&A page that masks would not be mandatory “when a considerable proportion of our population has been vaccinated,” without providing an estimated date.
The likely end of Spain’s state of alarm on May 9th will mean the end of the curfew, border closures and other restrictions in most regions, but the lifting of facemask rules isn’t being considered for that date.
“We’ll have much better weather in the summer, with which the probability of being infected is ten times lower,” virologist Margarita del Val, head of Spain’s National Research Council.
told online daily 20 minutos in March about the potential easing of mask restrictions by August.
“In addition, our vaccination campaign will be much more advanced and there’ll be more information on how vaccines work, with which we will see things differently,” Del Val wanted to point out.
Although there’s no exact date yet for when there will be changes to facemask laws, once over-40s and professionals who are at risk of being infected have been vaccinated, an easing is expected, de Val said.
Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP
Looking overseas for answers
Spanish health authorities are now looking closely at Gibraltar and Israel, two of the places with the most advanced vaccine campaigns in the world, as examples of what happens when face masks are no longer obligatory.
“The universal and massive vaccination that has been carried out in Israel has allowed these new measures to be implemented. This is the reason why they can begin to return to a normal life”, Domínguez stated.
Spanish authorities are unlikely to carry out a blanket lifting of mask usage in all places and situations once the 70 percent vaccine target is met, nor allow those who have received the Covid-19 vaccine to be exempt from wearing masks as they can still be carriers.
A drop in infections due to a more advanced vaccine rollout, people respecting current and future restrictions and self-isolation measures for those infected are all factors that can all play a part in how fast mask usage is phased out.
“There are still quite a few months left,” Del Val concluded, adding that clearing the air in poorly ventilated indoor spaces “is not something we’re doing well”.
Could it be that not wearing a mask outdoors will be allowed first but we’ll have to keep wearing it indoors in shops and bars?
Perhaps, but what matters to Spanish epidemiologists is that the 70 percent immunisation target is met first, which according to government estimates will fall in the summer.
“Social distancing measures, hand hygiene and the use of facemasks could be scrapped at a generalized level if this happens,” Spanish Epidemiology Society (SEE) told medical journal Redacción Médica.
“Although it is possible that according to the information available at that time, the Spanish government continues to recommend such measures in very vulnerable groups.
“If the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not be controlled and its transmission was maintained at significantly high levels, these measures would have to be maintained ”.