Reader question: Why are masks still compulsory in Spain if the state of alarm is over?

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected] • 15 May, 2021 Updated Sat 15 May 2021 11:41 CEST
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An elderly couple wearing face masks. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Spain’s state of alarm ended on May 9th, and while many restrictions have been lifted or are being debated, the use of facemasks remains in place. We look at the legal framework in place to help you understand why that is.


Spain’s state of alarm ended on May 9th and with it technically many restrictions such as curfews, border closures between regions and limits on when bars and restaurants could open. However, this doesn’t mean that all restrictions are gone, in fact many regions have been granted permission from their courts to keep some of the restrictions or to install new ones. 

However, one of the main rules which is still in place across the whole of Spain and isn't being legally debated is the use of facemasks in public.

READ MORE: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

But if the state of alarm is over, why are masks still compulsory?

Simply put, just because the state of alarm is over, doesn’t mean the pandemic is or that the virus has gone away. Spain currently has a 14-day incidence rate of 196.32 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

From a legal standpoint though, autonomous communities may only adopt measures based on ordinary legislation. However, for serious situations, they can limit certain freedoms, but only in certain cases under the the Organic Law of Special Measures in Public Health Matters of 1986 (Ley Orgánica de Medidas Especiales en Materia de Salud Pública de 1986).

Article Three of this lawstates that in order to be able to control infectious diseases the health authorities, in addition to carrying out general preventive actions, may adopt appropriate measures to control the sick, the people who are or have been in contact with them and the immediate environment.


The facemask 'at all times' law from last March

In addition to the above law, there was another piece of legislation passed on March 29th 2021 when Spanish authorities were trying to prevent Spain's fourth wave from happening. 

In essence, Spain tightened existing laws and made it mandatory to wear a face mask in all public places, including at the beach, at the swimming pool or the countryside where previously people could remove them as long as they kept their distance. So that regardless of the safety distance of 1.5 metres, people were expected to keep their mask on at all times in public.

When the law was published it caused an uproar among locals and budding tourists as it meant that even sunbathing on the beach or walking alone in a forest, you would be required to wear a mask.

The backlash eventually resulted in the Spanish government easing the measures slightly, however, the general law still stands.

These amendments included exceptions such as:

  • People with respiratory diseases or disabilities will not be obliged to wear a mask
  • Masks will not be required when practicing outdoor sports or exercising individually
  • It will not be necessary to wear a mask when doing something that is incompatible with wearing one. This includes situations such as swimming, sunbathing, and eating.

READ MORE: Explained: 5 facts to understand what's happening in Spain after state of alarm ends



Esme Fox 2021/05/15 11:41

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