Will facemasks be compulsory outdoors in Spain this summer?

Despite the existing legislation, a growing number of voices in Spanish politics and science are calling for mask rules to be relaxed when the summer heat rolls around and Spain’s vaccine campaign is more advanced. 

Will facemasks be compulsory outdoors in Spain this summer?
Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020 and since March of this year you are required to wear them in almost all indoor and outdoor settings even if you’re sticking to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask wearing ie. eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc

But with the vaccine campaign that’s underway in Spain and globally, politicians and scientists are now weighing up the pros and cons of keeping the mask at-all-times rules. 

Back in April, the EU called for mask wearing among vaccinated people to be reconsidered in Member States.

In the United States, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently advised that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks outdoors nor in most indoor spaces.

The same questions regarding the benefits of masks in outdoor settings for preventing Covid infections are now being asked in Spain.  

Catalonia is the latest region to say it will study “in the coming weeks” the possibility of not making masks obligatory outdoors once they have reached certain vaccine targets.

“Based on the knowledge acquired in other countries and the evolution of the pandemic, it will undoubtedly be a debate that we will have on the table in the coming weeks,” Regional Health Secretary Marc Ramentol told local radio RAC1.

According to Ramentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population with at least one dose, the matter is worth discussing. 

Not having to wear a mask outdoors will help the summer “feel more like 2019 than that of 2020”, said Ramentol.

READ ALSO: What are the restrictions after the state of alarm in each region of Spain?

Galician President Alberto Núñez Feijóo has also said that if people in the northwestern region continue to behave “with the caution that the situation requires”, masks won’t be required outdoors in two months. So far, 43.6 percent of people in Galicia have received at least one vaccine. 

But for Spain’s national Health Ministry, in order for people to go mask-free outdoors, at least 50 percent immunity among its population must have first been achieved. 

For indoor mask legislation to be reconsidered the widely quoted 70 percent immunity target has to be met first, which according to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will happen in just over 90 days in late August.

Spain’s Health Emergencies coordinator Fernando Simón has also said that it was “common sense” to modify the outdoor masks rules and added that the regions were already in discussions with Spain’s Health Ministry. 

However, some regional authorities such as Valencia and Andalusia prefer to remain cautious and maintain current outdoor mask rules until more people are vaccinated, even if it means enduring the outdoor summer heat in those regions with a mask on. 

A tourist in Seville wearing a mask and carrying an umbrella when temperatures went over 40C last summer. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP

What do the experts say?

There’s a mixture of opinions, with some saying wearing masks outdoors doesn’t make enough of a difference to lowering infections, and others saying Spain shouldn’t jump the gun and wait to achieve more immunity among its inhabitants. 

Last March, 100 Spanish virologists and other scientists signed a letter discouraging outdoor mask usage by arguing that the chances of getting infected with Covid-19 are 20 times lower outdoors than indoors. 

But for other leading Spanish virologists such as Amós Rodríguez of the Spanish Vaccination Association, it’s still too early to consider the easing of mask measures. 

“In Spain we are starting to go into cruise control in terms of vaccinations, but we still have a long way to go to achieve reasonable immunity that allows us to consider detaching ourselves from the barrier tools we have lived with for most of the pandemic. 

“At this moment it is not a debate and it should not be.”

Spain has had some of the strictest mask rules in Europe since the start of the pandemic, requiring masks in all indoor and outdoor spaces for almost a year now. 

Other countries such as France and Italy have adopted similar measures whereas Scandinavian nations initially or still make mask usage voluntary. In the UK, masks have to be worn in indoor settings but not outdoors.  

In March, Spain made international headlines when it decided to make masks compulsory in all public settings for all people aged 6 and over even when the safety distance of 1.5 metres was being met (with the exception of people with health problems). 

The backlash it caused after locals and tourists realised this would mean they would have to wear a mask while sunbathing or at the pool led Spanish authorities to tweak the legislation to allow some exceptions

Even if Spain does end up easing mask legislation in certain settings, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a blanket lifting of the rules overall, even when the country’s 70 percent immunity target is met. 

In indoor areas with poor ventilation, it could be that masks remain compulsory even once Spain puts the worst of the pandemic behind it. This is España after all, the land of packed taverns, heaving squares during local fiestas and busy public transport. 

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

Member comments

  1. At least the 2 meters is a must, third wave is rising! Good truly loves u, pls stay safe and get both doses of the vaccine, after 2 weeks of the 2nd dose you’re fully vaccinated + keep using a mask to avoid any infections to unvaccinated groups you may carry from any previous infections. Eat and exercise healthy to not get any clots. Others and I too love u! Luke; 14 Forsake everything everyone and your life for JES

    Luke; 16 Work for JES not $$$, and JES will give you also your family food and clothing if they follow too

    Matthew; 25 and Luke; 12+6 Sell all you have and give to the poor and keep every giving in secret

    Mark; 16 and John; 17 Share the Truth to all working together in love also peace

    Revelation; 13+14 Never take mark of the beast right hand or forehead only way to buy or sell ¤It is not a covid vaccine or a mask, may be microchip implant / quantum tech

    Revelation; 17+18 USA is most possibly the Babylon to be destroyed in 1 hour with fire

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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.