Spain’s top court lifts curfew and restrictions for meetings in the Balearic Islands 

Spain’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the curfew and the limit of people in meetings in private imposed by the Balearic Islands after the end of the state of alarm, considering the restrictions disproportionate for the islands’ low infection rate.

Spain's top court lifts curfew and restrictions for meetings in the Balearic Islands 
An 11pm curfew has been maintained in the Balearics since the end of Spain's state of alarm. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Spain’s Supreme Court has cancelled the midnight curfew and the limit of six people for meetings in private settings on the Mediterranean islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. 

According to the judges, the measures that were kept in place in the Balearics despite Spain’s state of alarm ending on May 11th go against citizens’ fundamental rights and “exceed the judgment of proportionality” in a region where the fortnightly Covid infection rate is currently 38.8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

This puts the Spanish archipelago in the “low” infection risk category for regions and provinces with infection rates below 50 cases per 100,000 people.

In theory, it would also allow the regional government to open bars and nightclubs until 3am under a new set of eased restrictions rolled out by the central government on Thursday.

However, the Balearic regional government is apprehensive about this, especially as they hope to welcome back international tourists soon and want to keep their infection rate as low as possible.

“We’re still in favour of a slow easing of restrictions, we know we have a lot at stake,” Balearic Health Councillor Patricia Gómez told journalists on Thursday.

Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that caution wasn’t enough of a reason for Balearic authorities to keep such measures in place. 

Imposing measures such as a curfew or limits on gatherings is still possible even without the state of alarm, judges argued, but they have to be truly justified in that they serve to protect public health.

The curfew in the Balearics was actually due to end this weekend but the ruling is important as it’s the first time that the Supreme Court gives its verdict on regional curfews.

It also sets a precedent for similar post-state of alarm restrictions imposed in the Valencian region, where there is also a curfew, and Catalonia , Extremadura , the Canary Islands or Aragon , where there are limitations on gatherings.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.