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COVID-19

VIDEOS: Crowds of young revellers celebrate end of Spain’s state of alarm

Thousands of mainly young people hit the streets of Spain’s biggest cities over the weekend to celebrate the end of the country’s state of alarm. As the footage shows, mask wearing and social distancing were not a priority. 

VIDEOS: Crowds of young revellers celebrate end of Spain's state of alarm
A packed Puerta del Sol in Madrid on Saturday night. Photo: Screenshot

Singing, dancing and because this is Spain after all, street drinking in the form of so-called botellones

This was the scene in Madrid, Barcelona, Salamanca, Seville and Bilbao over the weekend and in particular on Saturday night, when the country’s nationwide state of alarm came to a close. 

This theoretically also spells the end of many Covid restrictions, including the curfew, early closing hours and regional border closures – which is the main reason behind all the celebrating – even though many of Spain’s autonomous communities are working on keeping restrictions.

In the capital’s emblematic Puerta del Sol on Saturday night, the packed square resembled pre-pandemic New Year’s Eve celebrations, with revellers shouting “Freedom!” (the anti-restrictions slogan of the newly elected regional president Díaz Ayuso), pulling down or not even wearing a mask and generally forgetting that the pandemic is still ongoing. 

“Freedom does not consist of breaking the rules,” Madrid mayor José Luis Martínez Almedia said on Sunday morning.

Other Madrid squares such as Chueca, Dos de Mayo or Malasaña held similar improvised and uncontrolled outdoor parties until police stepped in to break up the crowds.

“I was fed up with not being able to get out of Madrid,” jewellery designer Blaca Valls told AFP on Saturday, echoing the relief of many partygoers over the easing of restrictions.

“I felt frustrated, locked down, with no freedom,” added the 46-year-old, who plans to go to Galicia, in northwest Spain, next weekend to celebrate a birthday.

The scene was largely the same in Barcelona, where hundreds of young people celebrated with dancing and singing at an improvised party held in the city centre, as the country lifted a state of emergency precisely at midnight. 

“We came to see the atmosphere and it seems to be a bit like New Year’s Eve; we waited until midnight to be able to go out in the street and see if there were really a lot of people or not. And obviously there are a lot of young people celebrating,” community manager Oriol told AFP.

“It feels amazing,” a French student in Barcelona added.

“We’ve had to stay confined in our homes and neighbourhoods for so long.”

In Seville’s La Alameda neighbourhood, a multitude of young people gathered for post-midnight street drinking as well. 

In the Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián, smaller groups of youngsters stayed out past the previous curfew time to celebrate the end of the state of alarm, which local Ertzaintza police broke up. 

In the student city of Salamanca, the scenes of unrestrained revelry were much the same.

Spain’s government called on Monday for “responsibility”, insisting health restrictions are still in place.

“The end of the state of emergency does not mean the end of restrictions. Far from it. The virus threat still exists,” Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo wrote in an opinion piece in El Pais daily.

“That’s why the authorities will continue to take action and the public must keep on behaving responsibly.”

After more than six months of curfews and a ban on travel between Spain’s 17 regions under a state of emergency which was imposed in late October, it seems that in principle Spaniards will be afforded new freedoms now that the measures expired on Sunday.

But the images of hundreds of people joyfully celebrating in the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish cities without masks or social distancing made Monday’s front pages and has sparked much debate online.

“We still have a very high infection rate” of 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days, and “the vaccination is not sufficiently extensive” yet, epidemiologist and ex WHO adviser Daniel López Acuña told Telemadrid.

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  1. Do not take risks with this disease, it could be lethal. God truly loves u, please apply all the covid safety measures and get vaccined + use the mask, eat and exercise healthy to not get the clots. Others and I too love u! Luke14 Forsake everything everyone and your life for HE
    Luke16 Work for HE not $, and He will give you & your family food and clothing if they follow too
    Matthew25 & Luke12 and 6 Sell all and give to the poor asap and keep every giving in secret
    Mark16 & John17 Share the Truth to all working together in love also peace
    Revelation13 & 14 Never take mark of the beast right hand or forehead only way to buy or sell ¤not a vaccine or a mask, but could be a microchip implant or some quantum technology such as implant or dot
    Revelation17 & 18 USA is most likely the Babylon to be destroyed in 1 hour with fire

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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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