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COVID-19

Spain’s government refuses to extend state of alarm even if it can’t limit mobility or gatherings

Despite pressure from political opponents and some regional authorities, Spain’s national government insists it won’t extend the state of alarm past May 9th, even if that means that many of the restrictions in place currently are lifted. 

Spain's government refuses to extend state of alarm even if it can't limit mobility or gatherings
Spanish government spokesperson María Jesús Montero. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

Spanish government spokesperson María Jesús Montero on Tuesday reiterated that La Moncloa does not intend to lengthen the country’s state of alarm past the planned end date of May 9th 2021. 

“In the last few days we’ve expressed this with absolute clarity, the objective of the Spanish government is that after May 9th the extension of the state of alarm won’t be necessary,” she stated, adding that fundamental rights such as mobility or the right to gather can only be limited when el estado de alarma (the state of alarm) is active.

Spain’s infection rate has risen by 100 points in just under a month, with six regions now classified as having “extreme” infection risk with a fortnightly incidence above 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

However, Spain’s government spokesperson said the epidemiological situation was still stable enough for the state of alarm to be lifted.

READ ALSO: Why pressure is growing on Spain’s government to extend state of alarm

Montero echoed Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s recent words on the matter, who has been saying since April 6th that the state of alarm should end on the planned date as “the circumstances are different” epidemiologically speaking and in terms of vaccinations, when compared to when the second state of alarm was reinstated on October 25th.

“The alternative to a state of alarm is a vaccination programme, which is intensifying,” Sánchez said in the Spanish Parliament on April 16th. 

Activated in October, the state of alarm allows the central and regional governments to adopt measures that curb individual freedoms, such as imposing curfews and closing regional borders to anyone moving without just cause. 

But many regional governments – which are responsible for healthcare – fear that lifting it will throw them into a legal limbo that will hurt efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 and are pushing for an extension.

Without the state of alarm, Spain’s 17 autonomies will find it a lot harder to keep restrictions in place as they’ll need to get judicial permission to implement any extension of the restrictions, or new ones.

READ ALSO:

Asked if she thought regional authorities would attempt to keep the current state of alarm-authorised  restrictions, Montero said “I would have to be daring to speak on that already”, but concluded that “it isn’t convenient to decentralise”.  

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COVID-19

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.

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