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COVID-19

Catalonia imposes earlier closing times and limit on gatherings to slow down Covid spike

Catalonia announced on Monday new measures to rein in the growing spread of the coronavirus in the region, where the infection rate is currently double the national average.

Catalonia imposes earlier closing times and limit on gatherings to slow down Covid spike
Photo: Luis Gené/AFP

Regional leaders in northeastern Catalonia said all public activities must finish at half past midnight, and no more than 10 people will be allowed to gather in private or public places.

“The data are more than worrying, they are frankly very, very bad,” Catalonia’s public health secretary Josep Maria Argimon told reporters in
Barcelona.

As of July 13th, the fortnightly infection rate in the region is 738 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the country. 

The whole of Spain has been facing a “rapid” and “significant” increase in the incidence of the virus for several weeks, with 368 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days, said Fernando Simón, the central government’s chief epidemiologist.

The latest wave of the disease has hit in particular under-30s who have not been vaccinated, he added.

In the province of Valencia, south of Catalonia, a 1 to 6 am curfew was restored in 32 towns, including the regional capital Valencia, Spain’s third largest city after Madrid and Barcelona.

All meetings were restricted to ten people.

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

In the face of the increase in Covid-19 cases, neighbouring France on Monday announced stricter restrictions on unvaccinated travellers from three countries that have reported high numbers of Covid cases linked to the delta variant of the virus – Spain, Portugal and the UK.

Hospital occupancy numbers in Spain are increasing slowly while the death rate is not rising at all, as so many more vulnerable people have been vaccinated, Simon said.

According to the health ministry, 59 percent of Spain’s 47 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, while 45 percent have been fully vaccinated.

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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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