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COVID-19

Spain’s Basque Country becomes first region to bring back Covid restrictions

The Basque Country is the first Spanish region to reintroduce tougher Covid-19 restrictions this autumn as it also attempts to get local judges to greenlight the use of the Covid health pass to gain access to hospitality establishments.

The Basque Country introduces new restrictions
The Basque Country may require Covid Certificates. Photo: Sylvain THOMAS / AFP

The Basque Country’s regional goverment on Tuesday announced it would require municipalities to cancel or delay events and activities where Covid safety measures cannot be guaranteed (mask wearing, safety distance).

It will also expect town halls to make more public space available for events where large crowds will congregate ahead of the Christmas period and that spaces intended for the sale and consumption of food and drink should be well defined.

The rules will apply in particular to municipalities with a fortnightly infection rate above 150 cases per 100,000 people.

The measures, which came into force on Wednesday November 17th, are not as strict as those seen during earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they do spell the reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions in Spain after more than a month virtually without them.

Cases continue to rise in the Basque Country, which currently has a 14-day infection rate of 196 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the second highest in Spain after Navarre and more than double the national average. 

There have been 17 Covid-19 deaths in the past week in the northern region,114 Covid patients are currently hospitalised and 30 more are in ICU beds.

READ ALSO: Spain’s regions eye Covid health pass to keep sixth wave at bay

The government of the Basque Country has also announced that it will request authorisation from the Superior Court of Justice of the Basque Country to be able to request the need to present Digital Covid Certificates to access nightlife venues and restaurants.

The regional governments of Galicia, the Canary Islands, Murcia, Castilla y León, the Valencia region, Aragón and Navarre are also all contemplating whether to push forward with this legislation for hospitality venues, whilst Andalusia wants it for concerts and sport stadiums.

Crucially, they needs to be approved by regional courts, which is the reason why the Covid health pass for daily affairs never really took off in Spain in the first place.

Whereas other governments across Europe embraced this controversial measure as a means of slowing down infections, regional authorities in the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Cantabria and Galicia all saw how the introduction of the health pass was rejected by local judges, some of them labelling it as “unnecessary” and “not ideal”.

As things stand, the Digital Covid Certificate – issued by the regions to certify vaccination, testing or recovery –  is only required in nightlife venues and some large events in Catalonia, the Balearics and Galicia. 

The Basque Government Minister of Health, Gotzone Sagardui, has said that the need for a Covid Certificate is being considered for all those over 12 years of age who want to access nightlife establishments or places where musical and dance activities such as concerts take place.

In addition, it could also be necessary to present the Covid passport in restaurants where large groups of people gather and those and that have a capacity of more than 50 diners.

READ ALSO: Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

Galicia received authorisation from the courts to require Covid Certificates to access nightlife venues back in September and Catalunya also introduced them when it reopened its nightclubs last month. The certificates are also required for nightlife venues in the Balearic Islands. 

The regional governments of Galicia, the Canary Islands, Murcia, Castilla y León, Aragón and Navarre are also contemplating the need for Covid Certificates for hospitality venues, whilst Andalusia wants it for concerts and sports stadiums.

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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

READ ALSO:

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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