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COVID-19

Will all of Spain require a Covid ‘health pass’ to go to bars, restaurants and events like other EU countries?

Two Spanish regions and a number of EU nations now require proof of Covid health status from citizens who want to access bars, restaurants and other establishments. Will this scheme be introduced across all of Spain's regions?

does spain require health pass covid bars restaurants
Photo: Sameer Al-DOUM /AFP

France, Austria and Portugal have a health passport for daily affairs, Ireland and Malta plan to adopt one in July and Italy has just approved it

An increasing number of members of the EU27 are on board with the idea of using digital health passports to limit entry to public places where Covid infections tend to occur: big concerts, gyms, bar and restaurant interiors, to name a few. 

So will Spain follow in the footsteps of other European nations and put limits on something as intrinsically Spanish as meeting friends for a beer at the bar?

On July 22nd, Galicia became the first territory in Spain to require its citizens to show proof of their Covid health status to gain access to the interior of cafés, bars and restaurants. 

Residents of municipalities with a high or very high infection rate have to show proof that they are immunised against Covid-19 or that they don’t have the virus if they want to go inside their local bars and restaurants. 

The measure still has to be ratified by the Galician High Court but bar and restaurant owners have already started asking customers for proof of a Covid ‘health pass’ or closing their interiors completely to the public to avoid possible fines, according to local news sources.

READ MORE: Galicia becomes first region in Spain to require Covid ‘health pass’ to access bars, restaurants

On the same day, the Canary government confirmed that customers at cafés, bars and restaurants on the island of Tenerife, which has just been moved up to risk level 4, will also require a Covid Digital Certificate to access the interior of these establishments from Monday July 26th.

If any of the other islands of the archipelago move up to level 4 as their Covid infections rise, their inhabitants will also have to show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery to go inside these hospitality establishments, with the QR Code of the Digital Covid Certificate being the preferred form of proof. 

The regional government has been hinting that the health pass requirement would be introduced since its request to bring back the curfew as a means of curbing rising infections was rejected by the Canary High Court. 

“We’re going to try to make it so it’s not possible to access the interior of establishments without having a vaccination certificate,” said Canary President Ángel Pérez on July 14th. 

“This does not mean that you won’t be able to go to your local bar or store” Pérez stressed, adding that it’s still necessary to study “in which places the health pass should be required, how it will be organised and what type of controls should be introduced”.

How to get a Digital Covid Certificate in each of Spain’s regions

 Photo: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Up to now the Digital Covid Certificate, which is issued by Spain’s 17 regions, has been used solely for the purpose of facilitating travel. 

In France, the health passport can show one of three things – vaccination status, a recent negative Covid test or recent recovery from Covid.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced that over the next month the use of France’s pass sanitaire will be greatly increased to include a number of everyday holiday activities such as going to cafés and restaurants, visiting museums and tourist sites and travelling on long-distance train or coach journeys.

People in Italy will also soon need the pass to enter gyms, swimming pools, museums, cinemas, theatres, sports stadiums and other public venues, including indoor seating areas at bars and restaurants, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza stated at a press conference on Thursday.

Vaccine hesitancy is not so much of a problem in Spain, but the country’s rising fortnightly infection rate is, having risen more than sixfold over the past month to 661 cases per 100,000 people on July 23rd.

Among young people in their twenties, the prevalence of the virus is triple that rate. 

The reopening of the nightlife venues, the end of the school year, the low vaccination rate among younger age groups and the rampant spread of the Delta variant have all contributed to making Spain’s infection rate the highest in the EU together with Cyprus’s and Portugal’s.

Whether the recently tightened restrictions and the closure of the nightlife venues in some regions will have an impact on the incidence of Covid-19 will be reflected in the data in the coming days, but Spain could benefit from having more control through a system that’s already in place: the Digital Covid Certificate. 

Apart from Galicia and the Canary Islands, Valencian regional authorities have also suggested they want to  adopt a health pass system for entry to cafés, bars, restaurants and the interior of other establishments, but this has been ruled out as “not possible” by the hospitality industry for the queues and holdups all the checks will allegedly cause. 

The regional government of the Balearic islands is also in favour of adopting health passports for bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Other regions such as Aragón, Castilla y León and the Basque Country have ruled out the possibility of requiring health passports from citizens in the form of QR codes. 

READ ALSO: Is this the future of bar culture in Spain? One region now requires QR code to be served

Health passports are deemed discriminatory by some experts and sectors of society who see them as limiting personal freedoms and privacy. 

In Spain’s case, they put limits on the quintessential Spanish habit of eating and drinking out. 

Crucially, one other common trait could hinder the efficiency of health passes in Spain: the fact that young Spaniards always find a way of having fun, and if they’re barred from interiors they’ll take the party outdoors as they do already: with botellones (street drinking) believed to be behind many of the Covid-19 infections among youngsters.

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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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