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EXPLAINED: 5 facts to understand what’s happening in Spain after state of alarm ends

Even though the end of Spain’s state of alarm on May 9th theoretically meant many restrictions ceased to exist, governments and courts - both national and regional - are not seeing eye to eye over how to proceed with Covid measures. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: 5 facts to understand what's happening in Spain after state of alarm ends
Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

Regional restrictions are getting rejected

Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities now have to ask permission from their regional high courts for Covid restrictions to be kept after the state of alarm, whereas previously they enjoyed emergency powers which allowed them to roll out measures quickly without permission from the courts. 

Navarre, the Basque Country and the Canary Islands have all had their requests to maintain their curfews and other measures rejected by regional judges. The Canary government, as we will mention in greater detail further down, have now appealed the matter before Spain’s Supreme Court.

It’s a constantly evolving situation as different regional authorities are introducing, adapting and removing measures based on the decisions being reached in the courts, but you can read about the latest restrictions in place across Spain here.

Some regions have managed to keep restrictions 

The Balearic Islands and the Valencia region have on the other hand received the approval of their regional courts – the Tribunales Superiores de Justicia – so the curfew is maintained in both Mediterranean regions as well as the limit on gatherings in the region made up of Alicante, Valencia and Castellón.

Catalonia’s regional court has also approved a limit of six people for gatherings now that the state of alarm has ended. In Castilla-La Mancha, judges have closed the book on the region’s Level 2 and 3 measures. 

In Galicia, the local government has already received the support of its regional judges to keep some restrictions and has already presented a second round of requests to the judges. 

Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

It’s legal chaos

With 19 autonomous courts handpicking which restrictions they should keep and which they should drop, it’s no wonder that not only ordinary Spaniards but even regional police forces and authorities are finding it hard to know what’s allowed and what isn’t anymore.

And it’s not as if the judges wanted to take the responsibility of governing Spain on their shoulders. Ahead of the end of Spain’s estado de alarma, legal associations and judges called Pedro Sánchez’s administration “irresponsible” for ‘passing the buck’ to them through new legislation which meant courts now decide Covid restrictions across the country.

READ MORE:

In such unprecedented times as this global pandemic, there’s a sense that La Moncloa demoting its powers to all regional governments and courts really is a case of allowing too many cooks to spoil the broth right at the wrong time.

So does anyone get the final say?

If restrictions are rejected by the regional high courts, autonomous governments can choose to appeal before Spain’s Supreme Court. 

This is what the Canary government has chosen to do after their request for the curfew and perimetral closures were shot down by local judges. 

What the Supreme Court decides in the coming days could in effect set a precedent, and several other regions are reported to be waiting to see what happens with the Canary appeal to reintroduce the curfew. 

There’s a but 

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and members of his administration continue to say that the state of alarm is no longer necessary. 

However, the country’s Minister of Justice Juan Carlos Campo wrote and signed an article in national daily El País on Monday May 10th in which he said the regions have sufficient legal instruments with which to stop the spread of Covid-19. 

Moreover, he reminded regional authorities that they can request their own state of alarm just for their territory from the national government, which if approved would give them back the emergency powers to introduce restrictions swiftly and without legal backing.

So if the national government doesn’t agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on one ruling, they have committed to make the legal changes to allow the regions to sidestep these judicial decisions. 

Another win for Spanish bureaucracy it seems, but just more headaches for Spain’s population.

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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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