VIDEOS: Beach parties and big Easter gatherings see fears of fourth wave in Spain rise

Spanish police have had to break up dozens of illegal gatherings across the country over the Easter break, with health authorities fearing the country’s already increasing infection rate will rise even further as a result.

VIDEOS: Beach parties and big Easter gatherings see fears of fourth wave in Spain rise
Barceloneta beach in Barcelona over the Easter holidays. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

With inter-regional travel off the cards over Holy Week for Spanish nationals and residents, and thousands of EU tourists fleeing their own nations’ restrictions to spend their Easter holidays in Spain, the country’s cities and towns have had almost as much hustle and bustle as in a normal year this Semana Santa.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in a rise in the number of gatherings of more than six people (the legal limit in most regions, in some it’s four), and in many cases participants were not sticking to the safety distance or wearing a face mask either.

On Friday, dozens of young people were filmed dancing at Barceloneta beach in central Barcelona with not a face mask in sight.

The scenes have angered many in the Catalan capital, where bars and restaurants have to close at 5pm under current coronavirus restrictions.

The final of Spain’s Copa del Rey between Atlético de Bilbao and Real Sociedad also saw thousands of football fans gather in the two Basque cities to wave off their teams as they left for Seville on their team buses.

In both gatherings, fans failed to stick to the required 1.5 metre safety distance and many are seen not wearing face masks

In the Spanish capital, Madrid Municipal Police have had to break up almost 100 illegal gatherings over the Easter holidays.

Whereas in March police stopped 353 clandestine parties, mostly held in people’s apartments, over Holy Week revellers have taken to Madrid’s streets and squares due to the accompanying good weather, not respecting curfew hours or group limits.

A number of illegal parties at bars and nightclubs which were held behind closed doors in Madrid have also been broken up over Semana Santa.

On the Canary island of Tenerife, dozens of beachgoers gathered together for an improvised boxing match, with nobody appearing to wear a face mask. 

The lack of respect for coronavirus rules over Easter comes just as Spain’s 14-day cumulative infection rate was returning to high risk levels.

Having dropped to 128 cases per 100,000 people on March 18th, by April 1st Spain’s average infection rate had crawled up to 152 per 100,000, past the “high risk” threshold of 150.

More than half of Spain’s provinces had recorded an increase in cases ahead of the Easter holidays, with the regions of Madrid, Navarre, the Baque Country and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla all reporting fortnightly infection rates above 250 cases per 100,000, which put them in the “very high” or “extreme” risk classification.

The full extent of the influx in mobility over Easter in Spain – and the consequences of the rise in illegal gatherings held over this period – will be revealed in the coming days when Spain’s 17 regions report their newest infection rates.

If it’s anything to go on, Spain underwent its third coronavirus wave as a result of the rise in infections over the Christmas period.

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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.