For members


OPINION: ‘Wearing a mask at the beach in Spain will feel like being in a hospital ward’

Madrid-based politicians forgot that for most Spaniards having to wear a mask at the beach impinges on their liberties in the one place they go to feel free, writes Graham Keeley in reaction to Spain's recent face mask fiasco.

OPINION: 'Wearing a mask at the beach in Spain will feel like being in a hospital ward'
A man wears a face mask as he walks by the sea at Zurriola beach in San Sebastian on August 26, 2020. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS/AFP

During a stroll along a Barcelona beach today, most people did not seem to be worrying much about whether you can wear a mask there or not.

Some people were sunbathing, others were jogging and one daring soul was even braving the ice cold water to go windsurfing.

It was a typical scene at lunch time with most people escaping from normal life for a short while.

Some people were strolling with their masks at half mast – below their chins ready to be replaced if necessary – while others had dispensed with them altogether and a few others had their faces completely covered up.

Perhaps the reason for this mixed picture is the confusion which has reigned over the past week over the issue of face coverings.

Let’s take a step back a week or so to when the Spanish government announced people would have to wear a mask on the beach because Covid-19 contagion rates were beginning to creep up again.

It seems Spain’s leftist government had touched upon something of a raw nerve without knowing it.

Do many of these Madrid-based politicians ever get to the beach?

The beach is, after all, where most Spaniards’ forget real life and can feel the sand between their toes for at least a few weeks every year.

Pandemic or no pandemic, telling them they had to cover up when they hit the beach has not gone down well.

“If they make us wear masks on the beach, it will look like a hospital ward,” said Nadia López, who was enjoying a lunch break on the beach when I spoke to her.

“It will put people off – either that or people will just ignore it.”

Regional governments in the Balearics and then Catalonia – note, both big tourist destinations – rebelled, saying they would not enforce this proposal.

Municipal police officers patrol Barceloneta Beach in Barcelona on April 3rd, 2021. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Not only would this be bad news for Spaniards but if tourists do turn up this summer, it will be a disaster.

No surprises then, that British newspapers picked up on this with lightning speed.

Millions of Brits have been desperate to hit the golden Spanish beaches since all our lives have become reduced to living under lockdown.

Now, the government appears to have backtracked, conscious of how they may either have been too tough or simply got it wrong.

The Spanish government said today that masks will not be necessary while sunbathing or swimming if social distancing is respected.


After talks between the central government and Spain’s 17 regions, authorities agreed to modify the law, meaning people can now remove masks on the beach if they remain in one place “respecting the minimum 1.5 metre security distance from people they do not live with”, said the Health Ministry in a statement.

However, anyone who walks along the beach, must put them back on, the government added.

Roughly translated into language most people might understand this means that you don’t have to have a mask when you are sunbathing or going for a dip in the sea but it is complusory for strolling around.

So what effect do these mixed messages have?

Rafael Bengoa, a former World Health Organisation health systems director who is now the co-director of the Institute for Health and Strategy in Bilbao, feels the Spanish government should explain their decisions more clearly.

“I think the problem is transparency rather than the decision per se – they change decisions but they don’t explain the scientific reasoning behind it,” he told The Local.

“Trying to please everyone a bit creates this type of ‘policy’. It doesn’t seem enforceable due to its complexity plus it is not the same these days with a probable surge or fourth wave and by July 40-45% of the population should be vaccinated.”

A woman wearing a face mask jogs through a park in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

The masks mix-up is, of course, not the first time Spain’s government has said one thing, then done another.

Halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine only to urge people to use it about a week later, has done little to restore confidence among the public in its use.

Of course, it is easy to knock a government which is dealing with a pandemic which changes its form on a daily or hourly basis.

However, public confidence is surely gained by making the message clear and if a government has to change its policy then backing it up with scientific reason.


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For members


Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.