Spain to lift outdoor face mask rule on June 26th

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed on Friday that from Saturday June 26th wearing a face mask in outdoor public spaces will no longer be a requirement. 

face masks spain
Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

It’s been in the pipeline for over a month now but now there’s finally an end date.

“This will be the last weekend we wear masks outdoors as from June 26th we won’t have to wear masks in outdoor public spaces anymore,” Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez announced on Friday morning during a speech held in Barcelona, indicating that the matter would be voted through by the cabinet on Thursday. 

“Our streets, our faces, will start to regain their normal appearance in the coming days,” Sánchez capped off rather poetically.

The Socialist leader had said earlier during this week that the outdoor face mask rule would “soon” end, but there were many who doubted Sánchez’s words as the country’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón said in mid-May this would happen “within a matter of very few days”.

It remains to be seen how the autonomous communities will react to the news, as some regional authorities such as Madrid’s have ruled out the possibility of easing face mask rules for the foreseeable future.

On Thursday June 17th, the government of the northern region of Cantabria also said it would listen to the experts but preferred to “not take any risks”. The disparity in opinions between regional authorities means some may be willing to appeal the cabinet’s decision next week in a bid to keep the outdoor face mask rule.

The news comes just days after France and Germany announced they were also easing their face mask rules. 

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020.

In March 2021, the Spanish government tightened the rules to require people to wear masks in almost all indoor and outdoor settings even if people kept to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask wearing ie. eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc

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

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

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

As things stand on Friday June 18th, 47 percent of Spain’s population have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The country’s current Covid-19 infection rate is also the lowest since August 2020

For indoor mask legislation to be reconsidered, Spanish authorities have said that the 70 percent immunity target has to be met first, which according to Sánchez will occur in late August.

To read all the latest coronavirus news from Spain, click here for The Local Spain’s Covid-19 section

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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.