Spanish regions ease restrictions ahead of Easter as Covid cases drop

Several Spanish regions are relaxing restrictions for bars and restaurants and opening up their borders thanks to a drop of coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

Spanish regions ease restrictions ahead of Easter as Covid cases drop
People walk along Ourense's Roman bridge in Galicia. Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

On Monday Catalonia and Castilla y León reduced their restrictions on bars and restaurants, while Galicia eased its municipal restrictions on towns and cities.

The Basque Country follows Galicia’s lead today but both are keeping their regional borders shut.

In Castilla y León, a limited number of people will be allowed inside hospitality venues without drinking at the bar.

Catalan hospitality venues will now be open until 5pm, although those venues inside shopping centres will remain closed.

The relaxation of measures is thanks to falls in the numbers of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, RTVE reports. 

Meanwhile, in the Madrid region, the borders remain open but movement in certain areas remains restricted.

Hospitality is open until 11pm but no new customers can enter after 10pm. There are also limits on movement from 11pm to 6am in the region. 

Six people are allowed to gather on terraces, with four people allowed inside hospitality venues. Only carers are allowed to meet other people inside households.

The changes in Galicia and the Basque Country, which are more complex, are outlined below in more detail.

Galicia reopens A Coruña and Pontevedra

Galicia is keeping its borders shut but residents can move between different municipalities, unless those areas have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days.

This means A Coruña and Pontevedra, two of the largest cities in Galicia, opened up on Monday. 

Bars reopen inside in A Coruña and Pontevedra, apart from in four small areas within the city that remain in the highest alert level: Arteixo, Mino, Ponteceso and Sobrado dos Monxes. Terrazas will be open for bars in those areas.

A curfew in Galicia remains in place from 10pm to 6am.

Basque Country reopens inter-regional travel

On Tuesday March 9th travel between different municipalities in the Basque Country will be permitted for the first time since January 13.

The Basque president Inigo Urkullu has said that this is “still not a moment of relaxation but maximum caution”.Restrictions like the limiting of groups to four people, the curfew between 10pm and 6am and the shutting down of commercial and cultural activity at 9pm remain in place.

By Ian Johnston

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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.