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COVID-19

Will Spain bring back tougher Covid restrictions for Christmas?

Spain has so far not seen the same spike in Covid cases as its neighbours but some regions experiencing a rise in infections have already suggested they’ll tighten restrictions to avoid a sixth wave over Christmas.

Spanish police officers stand guard as people shop for Christmas in the centre of Madrid on December 7, 2020. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP
Spanish police officers stand guard as people shop for Christmas in the centre of Madrid on December 7, 2020. A lot has changed since last year, but will Spain bring back Covid restrictions as a precaution?Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

As things stand, Spain has one of the lowest Covid infection rates and hospitalisations across Europe, as well as leading the way in terms of vaccinations among the big countries on the continent. 

For prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain is on the cusp of reaching herd immunity, an example to its neighbours of a successful vaccination campaign which highlights the importance of trust in authorities and the public health system. 

“This Christmas is going to be better than the last,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Wednesday, stressing that Spain’s infection rate is “far below” that of other European countries thanks to the “high vaccination rate” and “low denialism”.

“Next year we will be even better. Spain is doing better,” Sánchez assured.

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But an increasing number of experts are warning that Spain should not drop its guard as infections skyrocket across Europe. 

The Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) has warned that basing Spain’s entire Covid-19 strategy on achieving herd immunity is “insufficient”. 

Face masks and social distancing will continue to be needed over the upcoming holiday period, SEE suggests. 

Professor Rafael Bengoa, a former World Health Organisation health systems director who is now co-director of Spain’s Institute for Health and Strategy, has also said it’s “important to have restrictions” across the country “for most of the winter period”. 

Which regions have hinted at tighter Covid restrictions at Christmas?

Spain’s national fortnightly infection rate currently stands at 63 cases per 100,000 cases, one of the lowest in Europe. 

But the country has moved into the “medium” risk category after surpassing 50 infections per 100,000 last Thursday. 

It’s currently highest in the northern regions of Navarre (135 per 100,000) , the Basque Country (123 per 100,000) and Aragón (104 per 100,000). 

In Galicia, Extremadura, Andalusia, Asturias, Castilla-La Mancha and Cantabria infections are still in the low-risk level. 

Fortunately, pressure on hospitals and ICU wards has only risen slightly so far. 

According to Spanish health ministry data there are currently 1,902 Covid patients occupying hospital beds across the country, 403 in ICU.

Currently, Spain’s 17 autonomous communities have some of the lightest Covid restrictions in place since the pandemic began, with compulsory masks in indoor spaces (unless food and drink are being consumed) the standout measure. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

But the evidence suggests this could soon change. 

The Government of Navarra on Thursday announced “it’s not ruling out any scenario” or new restrictions to control its 87 percent rise in cases over the past two weeks. 

Navarran Vice president Javier Remírez even suggested the implementation of the Covid-19 health pass to access bars, restaurants and other venues, a scheme implemented in a number of EU nations but which never took off in Spain. 

“For now, we’re just calling for citizen responsibility,” he concluded. 

Basque president Iñigo Urkullu had a similar message for residents of his region, reiterating for the third time that “it’s in our hands to avoid another spike in cases and new restrictions for Christmas”. 

“Those who haven’t been vaccinated, should go and do it,” Basque health head Gotzone Sagardui said in response to the fact that people who are ending up in hospital are mostly unvaccinated, a scenario repeated across Spain.

Families walk past the Christmas in Barcelona in 2020
Families walk past the Christmas lights in Barcelona last year, when the Spanish government suggested that people only meet with those “in their circle” over the festive period. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
 

 

In the Balearics, where restrictions on nightlife and other venues were maintained for longer, the fortnightly infection rate has risen to 95 cases per 100,000 people.

Balearic health spokesperson Javier Arranz has suggested bringing back capacity limits on venues and gatherings over the holiday period if Spain looks as if it’s on track for a sixth wave of Covid.

Arranz suggested that Black Friday at the end of November could be a pivotal moment for possible Christmas Covid restrictions.

Authorities in the region of Castilla Y León have also not ruled out bringing back restrictions ahead of Christmas either.

“If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that the situation must be analysed week by week, and although it will depend on many factors, we must all make an effort to prevent the incidence from skyrocketing,” Castilla Y León president Alfonso Fernández Mañueco said on Thursday November 11th. 

With 90 percent of its target population fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Spain is better positioned than any other European nation to avoid a sixth wave of Covid over Christmas.

Could stricter Covid-19 restrictions be introduced nonetheless? 

As a precaution it could be that Spain’s regions – which are responsible for introducing most of their own measures – choose to slightly tighten restrictions to avoid falling into an all too familiar trap. 

What happens over the course of November will decide this. 

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FACE MASKS

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spain’s Health Ministry has recommended Spaniards put their masks back on in indoor public settings, calling for "caution" as the seventh coronavirus wave sees cases and hospitalisations rise across the country.

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Friday recommended people wear face masks again in indoor public settings as Covid cases and hospitalisations in late June and early July returned to levels not seen since February 2022.

Darias called for “caution” and “responsible mask usage” at a time of increased travel in Spain and with many doctors and nurses booking off time for their summer holidays.

Similar sentiments about the return of face masks indoors have already been shared by the health authorities in some of Spain’s other regions, including Catalonia and Madrid. 

Catalan Health Minister Josep Maria Argimon recommended that those recovering from Covid should continue to wear a mask due to the increase in Covid patients admitted to the ICU in the region, which has increased from 26 to 46 in the space of three weeks.  

Madrid Vice President Enrique Ossorio also suggested that masks should be reintroduced in certain situations, due to the rise of cases seen in the region. Masks should be worn by “vulnerable people, those who are immunosuppressed and those who are pregnant,” he argued.

Ossorio also recommended that the use of face masks be extended to enclosed public spaces and large events.

After two years of compulsory usage in indoor public settings, Spanish authorities lifted the indoor face mask rule on April 20th, having already removed the requirement for outdoors on February 10th

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Spain’s Health Minister also urged that those aged 80 and over should receive a fourth Covid vaccine dose, but has not specified when this will happen, even though this was already been approved in early June.   

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

“The Health Ministry is going to continue working hand in hand with the advice of experts who’ve introduced an exemplary vaccination strategy,” Darias explained.

On Friday July 1st, 10,249 people were in hospital with Covid-19 in Spain, a figure not seen since February 17th 2022. As for ICU admissions, there were 449 Covid patients in total.

Madrid currently has a fortnightly infection rate of 1,500 cases per 100,00 inhabitants for people aged 60 and over, as Spain stopped counting each and every Covid-19 cases last March and focused only on serious infections and those affecting the elderly. 

That’s why experts are referring to this seventh coronavirus wave as the “silent” one, with no way of truly knowing how many people are getting infected or reinfected in Spain. 

Darias said that the Covid situation is being monitored carefully and that rise in cases is mainly down to the new omicron sub-variants BA4 and BA5, which are more transmissible but are milder than previous variants.

The Minister added that the Spanish government has provided its regions with medicines that are “very important” in the treatment of Covid, such as the antiviral Paxlovid, of which 344,000 sets of pills have been purchased, which help prevent an infected person from developing a serious illness, as well as Evusheld to protect people who do not generate their own antibodies. 

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