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LIFE IN SPAIN

EXPLAINED: How Spain’s new face mask law will affect you 

The Spanish government has passed a controversial law which makes face masks mandatory in all outdoor settings, including beaches, swimmings and in nature where previously masks weren’t always obligatory. But what does the new regulation mean for people living in Spain and those visiting from overseas?

EXPLAINED: How Spain's new face mask law will affect you 
A woman wearing a face mask sits at the Can Pere Antoni Beach in Palma de Mallorca. Photo: JAIME REINA/AFP

*APRIL 8TH UPDATE: Spain’s Ministry of Health and the country’s 17 regional authorities have agreed that masks will not always be mandatory on the beach, at swimming pools or in nature. Find out more here. We will update this article with the latest information once the new rules are fully confirmed. 

What’s happened (in a nutshell)?

Spain has made it mandatory to wear a face mask in all public places, including at the beach, at the swimming pool or the countryside where previously people could remove them as long as they kept their distance. 

Now, regardless of the safety distance of 1.5 metres, people will have to keep their mask on at all times in public. 

What are the details?

From Tuesday March 30th 2021, it will be mandatory for everyone in Spain over the age of six to wear a face mask in all public spaces, regardless of the safety distance. 

This is a nationwide law published in Spain’s latest BOE state bulletin, whereas previously Spain’s 17 regions had the authority to make the previous face mask regulation stricter or more lenient. 

As just mentioned, outdoor areas such as beaches, swimming pools and spots in nature where keeping a social distance was easy were excluded from the mandatory mask list of some autonomous communities.

The new decree essentially means that from now on, even if you’re sunbathing on a beach which you have completely to yourself, you should wear your mask.  If you’re trekking through a quiet forest at 7am, again, mask at all times. 

Needless to say, the obligation of wearing a mask in urban areas and indoor public spaces, as well as on public transport, as has been the norm until now, will remain in force. 

Are there any exceptions?

Under the law masks can only be removed for individual exercise outdoors.

There is no specific mention yet as to what is allowed in terms of mask wearing while not eating and drinking at a bar or restaurant terrace, but if there is a general tightening of restrictions, wearing a face mask while food and drink isn’t being consumed may be expected.

Those with specific health conditions and respiratory problems are exempt.

The document also mentions further exceptions for unspecified situations of a “force majeure” nature.

How much will the new mask regulations affect me?

It really depends where you are in Spain. Some regions such as Aragon, Asturias, Cantabria, the Balearic Islands or Castilla-La Mancha, stuck to the nationwide laws until now, so people in these parts of Spain may feel they can’t really go anywhere now where they can remove their masks in public.  

Other regions such as Andalusia or Madrid had already decided to make it mandatory to wear a mask at all times in public regardless of the safety distance, with exceptions, so residents of autonomous communities with tighter mask wearing rules may not notice the difference as much.

Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

How have Spain’s regions reacted to the new rule?

Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Galicia and Valencia have all been in favour of keeping their current regional mask-wearing regulations in place until the Health Ministry amends the state regulations. This means that over Semana Santa, fines of up to €100 for not obliging with the new mask law, will not be enforced. 

Several autonomous communities have said that the new rule clashes with the current laws they currently have in place. 

READ ALSO: How Spain’s regions and epidemiologists have been reacting to the new mask law

Why is Spain tightening its face mask laws?

Spain’s infection rate, which is measured over the preceding 14 days, has risen from 128 cases to 149 cases per 100,000 people over the course of the last week. 

This comes as ongoing reports of young European tourists flooding into Madrid to enjoy the Spanish capital’s relatively lenient restrictions both worry and anger Spaniards, especially given that infections are rising faster there, and that Spanish residents are under regional lockdown for Easter. 

But Spain is gearing up to open to even more tourists as soon as its vaccination campaign is more firmly underway (the target of 70 percent immunity among its population as the benchmark for reopening to foreign holidaymakers has been reduced to 30 to 40 percent). 

With international travel likely to be more challenging than usual for Spaniards and sun-starved northern Europeans eager to enjoy the Spanish weather, beaches and swimming pools across Spain could well be packed this summer, regardless of social distancing.

It could be that Pedro Sánchez’s government wants to make it clear what the rules are in Spain, especially for foreigners whose home countries don’t apply the same face mask regulation.  

The influx of international visitors and mobility within Spain may also concern Spanish authorities, who fear that the infection rates will shoot up again and cut the financially crucial summer season short. 

How have people reacted to the news?

Judging by the reaction on social media the law might not be too popular especially among those who work in the tourism industry who fear it will deal another blow to their chances of recovery.

A Twitter user by the name of Enfermera Saturada (Overworked Nurse) argued that it makes no sense to “wear a mask if you’re walking alone in the mountains or sunbathing 50 metres away from the closest person” but that the new nationwide law allows someone “riding on a bike or going for a run in the street” to not wear one “as long as you’re wearing sports clothes”. 

Commentator Juan Carlos Girauta said the measure would “destroy tourism” and questioned if “going for a stroll” didn’t constitute individual outdoor physical activity. 

When we broke the news on Facebook, the reaction from our readers was overwhelmingly negative, with the measure being labelled as “ridiculous” and “madness”. 

The general consensus among most negative commentators is that there will be little point in going to the beach or spending time outdoors at swimming pools or in nature if you have to keep your mask on at all times. It appears that some potential tourists have already been dissuaded from coming to Spain for their holidays as a result of the new legislation.

What do you think of Spain’s new face mask laws? Share your opinion on our poll below.

Member comments

  1. In the Valencian Community, masks have been mandatory for exercising in urban areas for some time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that means the new rules will actually be more lenient in that respect here!

  2. Start vaccinating a few people under the age of 104 on walking frames, and we may soon be able to begin going about our business normally. Masks have been proven NOT to work especially in outdoor spaces. We need the fresh air of the beach, and the outdoors at this time of year. The World Health Organisation states that Covid 19 is not transferable over 2m outside in the open air. I believe the mask wearing has more to do with the Spanish governments inadequacies to vaccinate it’s population. RANT OVER! I’ll put my mask on.

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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