Coronavirus in Spain: a round-up of the most important news ahead of Easter

There’s a lot of Covid-19 news in Spain in the lead up to the Easter break, with everything from restrictions to infection rates deciding the Spanish government’s next moves. Here are six key facts you need to know about the current state of affairs.

Coronavirus in Spain: a round-up of the most important news ahead of Easter
Three siblings hang out on their Semana Santa-decorated balcony in the Andalusian town of Ronda during Easter in 2020. Photo: Jorge Guerrero, Gabriel Buoys/AFP

Health Ministry considering tighter Easter restrictions

The interiors of bars and restaurants in the autonomous communities of Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarra, Asturias, Ceuta and Melilla will have to close, if the government’s proposal to toughen restrictions is successful. The proposal states that any region that has a cumulative incidence rate of more than 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants would have to close the interiors of their bars and restaurants for 14 days. Several regions are against the new proposal, however, particularly the health ministers for Madrid and Galicia, who have both voiced their disagreement. No decision has been made yet, so bars and restaurants can stay open under current regional restrictions. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: These are the new restrictions for regions across Spain 

Tourists are already arriving; EU has asked for ‘coherence’

The European Commission has called on Spain for ‘coherence’ in its policies regarding domestic and international travel restrictions. Already, German tourists have been arriving in Spain for the Easter holidays, while residents in Spain are prohibited from leaving their province or region. “The recommendation clearly states that, given that transmission and risk are similar for national and cross-border journeys, member states should ensure there is coherence between the measures applied to the two types of journey,” the EU spokesperson for rule of law, Christian Wigand, told Spain on Monday, March 22nd.

Rules frustrate many Spaniards who can’t travel

Many Spaniards and Spanish residents are frustrated that they will be unable to travel to other regions or second homes over Easter, with all of the country’s autonomous communities, minus the Canaries, having agreed to close their borders. However, people from other EU countries will be able to travel and visit their second homes as Spain’s borders remain open to other EU residents. Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón told journalists that it’s “incongruous” that foreign tourists and second homeowners can travel to Spain but residents won’t be able to cross regional borders during the Easter break. “How would you explain to Spaniards that foreigners can come to their second homes in Spain and they can come on holiday but Spaniards cannot go to their second homes?”, he said.

UK variant most dominant strain in Spain now

The new Covid-19 variant that was first detected in the UK, now accounts for half of all new cases said Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Wednesday, March 24th. The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is thought to be around 30 to 70 percent more contagious than the previous strain that was being spread in Spain. Darias warned that there will be a “possible change in trend” in Spain as the Covid incidence rates begin to rise once again.

AstraZeneca vaccine rollout resumes

Spain resumed vaccinating with AstraZeneca on Wednesday, March 24th after the temporary suspension due to fears of blood clots. The Spanish Health Ministry restarted the rollout after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that the vaccine was “safe and effective” and that “its benefits in protecting people from Covid-19 hugely outweigh the risks”. After the news, Spain’s Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System decided on Monday, March 22nd to extend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to those up to 65 years old, instead of those up to 55, which was their previous policy.

The AstraZeneca vaccine in Spain is mainly being used on key workers such as teachers, police and those healthcare workers not working directly with Covid-19 patients.

READ ALSO: IN STATS: How the AstraZeneca suspension is affecting Spain’s vaccine rollout

The incidence rate rises in 13 regions

The Covid-19 cumulative incidence rate has risen in 13 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities after the steady decline in recent weeks, causing concern for many health authorities, ahead of Easter. According to the latest data published by the Ministry of Health, cases have risen in Navarra by 8.3 percent, in La Rioja by 4.95 percent, in the Basque Country by 3.4 percent and in Madrid by 3.2 percent. The other nine communities have incidence rates that have risen between 0.1 percent and 2.3 percent.

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Spain’s Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Spain’s flagship airline Iberia has criticised the Spanish government’s ongoing mask requirement for passengers on planes bound to the country, stressing that it “doesn’t make any sense” and “it affects tourism”.

Spain's Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Although the majority of Spain’s domestic and travel Covid-19 restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022, one of the only rules that still remains in place is the obligation of wearing a face mask on public transport. 

This includes aeroplanes, buses, trains, taxis and some ferries, but mask wearing isn’t compulsory at airports, ports or bus and train stations. 

For officials of Spain’s flagship airline Iberia, the time has come for this rule to be lifted.

“One of the airline industry’s main concerns is that mask wearing doesn’t make much sense,” Iberia’s Corporate Communications Director Juan Cierco said during a business talk organised by Spanish news agency Europa Press on Monday.

“We’re the only country along with China and one or two more that still has this rule.”

Cierco added, whilst putting on a mask to prove a point, that: “Here we are with seven ministers, none of them are wearing a mask, so getting on a plane now to or from Spain and being forced to wear a mask doesn’t make sense”.

The corporate director stressed that he wasn’t questioning the view of health experts but couldn’t understand why almost all other countries ditched the mask rule for public transport long ago.

“We should take off our masks because it’s affecting tourism and business now. Many international passengers tell us that they prefer to fly to other destinations or with other airlines, because 10 hours with the mask on board a plane, when it is no longer necessary or essential for health reasons, it just doesn’t make any sense”.

As things stand, the general rule is that cabin crew from all airlines have to tell passengers on planes bound to Spain that they have to masks. 

If on the other hand the aircraft is flying out of Spain, the mask rules of the country which the plane is flying to apply, which in almost all cases means face coverings aren’t required.

READ ALSO: Masks still compulsory on planes in Spain despite confusion

Spain’s Confederation of Bus Transport (Confebús), German company FlixBus and Madrid Municipal’s Transport Company (EMT) have also voiced their opposition to the lingering mask rule.

So, will Iberia’s views make a difference to the Spanish government’s stance regarding masks?

According to a report published in late October, the Spanish government’s health experts have agreed not to review face mask usage on public transport until March 2023.

The article, which cites internal sources from Spain’s government, adds that the country’s Public Health Commission (a body which advises Spain’s Health Ministry on which measures to introduce) has reportedly agreed to shelve any possible changes until March, and as things stand keep the rule in place “for an indefinite time” as “it is not the right time to remove masks due to the arrival of winter”.

Spain’s Health Ministry, however, argues that no fixed date for reviewing face mask legislation has been set.