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COVID-19

Valencia region paves way for how curfews can return to Spain without state of alarm powers 

Valencia’s public prosecutor’s office has given its seal of approval to the return of curfew hours, setting a precedent for other regions that want to impose restrictions that technically encroach on fundamental rights in post-state of alarm Spain.

Valencia region paves way for how curfews can return to Spain without state of alarm powers 
Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

The regional government headed by Ximo Puig has received the backing of the Valencian district attorney’s office regarding the return of Covid-19 measures such as the curfew and limits on social gatherings as a means of curbing rising infections in the eastern territory. 

In early June, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that these two types of measures should not be implemented since the state of alarm ended on May 9th, considering that such restrictions encroach on fundamental freedoms and are not proportional to the whole territory. 

But on this occasion Valencia’s public prosecutor’s office has considered the limit of ten people in public or private settings across the region as well as the 1am to 6am curfew in high-risk municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to be balanced and corresponding to the region’s epidemiological situation. 

The curfew measure currently affects 32 municipalities in the region. In the province of Alicante: Sant Vicent del Raspeig; in the province of Castellón: Benicàssim; and in the province of Valencia: Alaquàs, Alboraia, Aldaia, Almàssera, Benaguasil, Benetússer, Benifaió, Bunyol, Burjassot, Catarroja, El Puig, Gandía, L’Eliana, Meliana, Mislata, Moncada, Paterna, Picanya, Picassent, Puçol, Quart de Poblet, Requena, Riba-roja de Túria, Sedaví, Silla, Tavernes Blanques, Utiel, Valencia, Vilamarxant and Xirivella. 

The region made of Valencia, Alicante and Castellón provinces has gone from having one of the persistently lowest infection rates in the EU (around 35 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) to 264 infections per 100,000, a fortnightly infection rate which has spiked in the region as it has done across Spain in a matter of two to three weeks. 

The Generalitat Valenciana government still needs the backing of the region’s high court, but it has already ruled in favour of the curfew twice in the region after the state of alarm (UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, Valencia high court ruled in favour of reintroducing the curfew and limits on social gatherings). 

The court ruling represents the latest chapter in the legal complications that Spain’s legislative system has had to face during the pandemic, with different interpretations by judges resulting in varying measures and regional authorities having to unwillingly lift restrictions in different regions. 

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

Spain’s two states of alarm – which went from March to June 2020 and then October 2020 to May 2021 – gave regional governments the powers to quickly legislate without having to first run coronavirus measures past judges. 

Without this legal framework, the regions no longer had the power to decide and depended on local and national judges, with the Spanish government approving in May a Royal Decree that gave Spain’s Supreme Court the final word on what measures limit fundamental rights.

READ MORE: ‘It’s irresponsible’ – Why Spain’s judges oppose govt’s handling of end of state of alarm

The decision by Valencia’s public prosecutor’s office lays out the legal background for other regions which have called for the return of the curfew (such as Castilla Y León and the Canary Islands) to know how to do so, by acting within proportionality and with an end date set for the end of the restrictions. 

That is what the Supreme Court ruled back in May, stressing that health legislation can allow limits on fundamental rights without a state of alarm as long as it’s “essential and temporary”.

In essence, we may not have seen the end of curfews in Spain during the pandemic, although rather than affecting the whole of Spain or entire regions, it’s likely that regional governments will reintroduce them in smaller areas where Covid cases are particularly high.   

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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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