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COVID-19

‘No need for return of state of alarm,’ Spain insists as Covid cases skyrocket

The Spanish government on Tuesday ruled out reintroducing the state of emergency which facilitates quick Covid restrictions as the infection rate among young people spirals out of control and regional authorities move to bring back measures. 

'No need for return of state of alarm,' Spain insists as Covid cases skyrocket
For Spain’s Prime Minister the decision to reintroduce Covid measures rests on the regions. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday dismissed the possibility of bringing back the state of alarm which was lifted on May 9th 2021, saying his government “wouldn’t approve anything more than what is already agreed between the national Health Ministry and the regions”.

Sánchez’s words come as 14,137 new Covid cases were reported in Spain in the past 24 hours, taking the incidence of the virus up by another 19 points in just a day. 

That means Spain’s fortnightly infection rate has gone from 92 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on June 22nd up to 225 infections per 100,000 on July 6th, nearing the extreme risk threshold of 250 per 100,000. 

But it’s infections among unvaccinated young people that are truly spiking: 652 cases per 100,000 12 to 19 year olds and 717 infections per 100,000 20 to 29 year olds.

READ ALSO: ‘Explosive transmission’: What you need to know about Spain’s fifth Covid wave

“We understand the (pandemic) fatigue; we are very aware that we are entering the summer, that they have finished the school year, the university year, but it’s very important to stay cautious because they can subject themselves to harm and can make older more vulnerable generations sick,” Pedro Sánchez said.

However, for Spain’s Prime Minister the decision to reintroduce Covid measures rests on the regions, reiterating to journalists that the country has a decentralised system where autonomous communities have the powers to legislate. 

Catalonia and Navarre have been the first regions to address the rise in inspections among their young populations by limiting venue capacities and closing nightlife establishments, which were only allowed to open recently after months of closure. 

READ MORE: Spain’s Catalonia reimposes Covid restrictions as cases spike

Regional authorities in the central territory of Castilla y La Mancha have however called on the government to bring back the state of alarm and with it measures such as the nighttime curfew.

The reason for this is that under the national state of alarm, regional governments could quickly roll out legislation without having to get it approved by a judge, and without this legal protection, restrictions deemed to breach fundamental rights such as a curfew are likely to be contested by regional high courts and the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, the Spanish Health Ministry headed by Carolina Darias has also dismissed the possibility of this happening and has encouraged their regional counterparts to introduce measures such as those in Catalonia and Navarre if they see it as necessary.

Authorities in Asturias, Madrid and the Valencia region have said they are currently studying the possibility of reintroducing restrictions to stem infections. 

Spain’s first state of alarm was implemented on March 14th 2020 as the country and the world went into a strict lockdown and ended on June 21st 2020 ahead of the summer season.

A second state of alarm was reinstated on October 25th 2020 due to rising infections in Spain after the summer period and ended on May 9th 2021.

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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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