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Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove their masks outdoors?

As Spain's vaccine campaign gains speed and the infection rate drops, there are indications that facemasks will very soon no longer be compulsory outdoors in several Spanish regions.

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove masks outdoors?
Photo: ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

Spain’s Health Emergencies chief Fernando Simón said at a recent press conference that he is hopeful about relaxing the rule about the use of masks in outdoor spaces, as long as the safety distance of 1.5 meters can be guaranteed.

“It is very possible that in a few days the use of a mask outdoors can be reduced. Of course, always guaranteeing that the risks are decreasing,” he said.

However, Simón also added that “reducing one measure does not mean that the same should be done with all measures”. In addition, he asked citizens to go “step by step and be careful until we see the effects that mean we can relax the restrictions”.

Although this will be decided in the next few days Simón does not want anyone to “fall into false assurances”.

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 such as eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc. 

Regions that could possibly relax restrictions on the use of masks outdoors

If the mask restrictions are relaxed by the government and the health authorities, the regions that could already qualify because of their low-to-medium risk epidemiological situations include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla La-Mancha, Extremadura, the Valencian region, Murcia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Which regions are in favour of the move?

Both Catalonia and Galicia have said that they would be in favour of dropping the use of masks outdoors.

The Catalan government was one of the first regions to open the discussion on relaxing the use of masks outdoors.

According to Catalan Regional Health Secretary MarcRamentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population having received 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.

President of the Xunta of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijoo, said last week that he expects the use of masks outdoors will be abolished in July, however on Tuesday, May 18th at the Hotusa Group Tourism Innovation Forum in Madrid, he insisted that it is only “a matter of weeks”.

Although Valencia currently still has some strict rules in place, Regional President Ximo Puig has stated that he is in favour of the mask not being compulsory in open spaces. “We know that in open spaces there is a much lower possibility of contagion and I have been supporting this for a long time – it is not necessary to use the mask in some open spaces, natural spaces or on the beaches,” he said.

Which regions want to keep making masks compulsory in outdoor spaces

Regional authorities in Madrid and the Basque Country, the regions which the highest infection rates in Spain have criticised the national government’s position regarding masks, arguing that’s it’s too soon for masks to no longer be obligatory outdoors.

Andalusia is also against the proposal. Jesús Aguirre, Minister of Health and Families in Adalusia, has said that it would be a mistake since the mask is “the most powerful weapon” with which we have to avoid possible infections within the region. 

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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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