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COVID-19

Spain eyes closing bars and nightclubs early as Covid cases rise 

Spain’s Health Ministry has drafted a plan which proposes that bars and restaurants close at 11pm and nightclubs at 1am in areas where Covid cases are spiking over Christmas, as the nationwide infection rate continues to gather pace.

Bar staff clear up chairs and tables at a bar terrace in downtown Burgos, in Castilla and Leon region.
Bar staff clear up chairs and tables at a bar terrace in downtown Burgos, in Castilla and Leon region. A limit on opening hours could return to Spain ahead of the Christmas period. Photo: César Manso/AFP

With Christmas just a month away, Spain is slowly but surely seeing its fortnightly infection rate increase by a larger amount every day, standing at 133 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday November 23rd, triple the rate it was a month ago.

The incidence of the virus is currently highest in Navarre – 376 cases per 100,000 people – but Covid hospitalisations are also starting to rise in regions such as Catalonia, where the Covid hospital occupancy rate has shot up by 61 percent in two weeks. 

The figures are still nowhere near as bad as previous stages of the pandemic, but the prospect of Spain completely avoiding Europe’s latest Covid wave is quickly fading away and health authorities will most likely tighten restrictions ahead of Christmas.

How exactly is the matter at hand.

Spain’s Ministry of Health on Monday proposed that regional authorities focus their attention on limiting opening hours for bars and clubs in places where infections and hospitalisations are up. 

The newest draft version of the nationwide Covid traffic light system suggests that in municipalities where the infection rate is at risk level 2 – 100 to 300 infections per 100,000 people –  bars and restaurants should shut at 11pm and nightlife venues at 1am. 

This would currently encompass half of Spain’s autonomous communities. 

The amended traffic light system, which serves as a guide for regional governments to impose local restrictions, also proposes there should be a return to a limit on the number of people per table (ten), 1.5 metres safety distance between tables, a 50 percent capacity limit and no eating or drinking at the bar. 

These are all measures that Spain has previously had. 

A week ago, Spain’s regional authorities rejected an earlier draft of the traffic light system which raised the threshold for what constitutes low and high risk infection rates.

READ MORE: Spain fails to convince its regions to change Covid risk traffic light system

For many regional leaders in Spain, the main focus now is on getting the Covid health pass green-lighted to limit access to hospitality venues for the 4 million unvaccinated people left in the country. 

In essence, they don’t want their vaccinated citizens to have to endure Covid restrictions once more when they’ve done their part. 

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

But just as the Covid health pass was rejected by a number of regional judges last summer, it seems unlikely once again that it will get the approval it needs to come into force. 

The country’s Health Ministry has ruled out a nationwide Covid health passport and on Monday the Basque Country High Court rejected once again its use under the premise that it breaches fundamental rights. 

So Spain finds itself at a crossroads in terms of what Covid-19 restrictions it should bring in as a less deadly but still highly transmissible wave of Covid-19 sweeps through its largely vaccinated population. 

A return to the old Covid measures seen throughout the pandemic or a new tactic ahead of the festive period?

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FACE MASKS

Spain’s Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Spain’s flagship airline Iberia has criticised the Spanish government’s ongoing mask requirement for passengers on planes bound to the country, stressing that it “doesn’t make any sense” and “it affects tourism”.

Spain's Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Although the majority of Spain’s domestic and travel Covid-19 restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022, one of the only rules that still remains in place is the obligation of wearing a face mask on public transport. 

This includes aeroplanes, buses, trains, taxis and some ferries, but mask wearing isn’t compulsory at airports, ports or bus and train stations. 

For officials of Spain’s flagship airline Iberia, the time has come for this rule to be lifted.

“One of the airline industry’s main concerns is that mask wearing doesn’t make much sense,” Iberia’s Corporate Communications Director Juan Cierco said during a business talk organised by Spanish news agency Europa Press on Monday.

“We’re the only country along with China and one or two more that still has this rule.”

Cierco added, whilst putting on a mask to prove a point, that: “Here we are with seven ministers, none of them are wearing a mask, so getting on a plane now to or from Spain and being forced to wear a mask doesn’t make sense”.

The corporate director stressed that he wasn’t questioning the view of health experts but couldn’t understand why almost all other countries ditched the mask rule for public transport long ago.

“We should take off our masks because it’s affecting tourism and business now. Many international passengers tell us that they prefer to fly to other destinations or with other airlines, because 10 hours with the mask on board a plane, when it is no longer necessary or essential for health reasons, it just doesn’t make any sense”.

As things stand, the general rule is that cabin crew from all airlines have to tell passengers on planes bound to Spain that they have to masks. 

If on the other hand the aircraft is flying out of Spain, the mask rules of the country which the plane is flying to apply, which in almost all cases means face coverings aren’t required.

READ ALSO: Masks still compulsory on planes in Spain despite confusion

Spain’s Confederation of Bus Transport (Confebús), German company FlixBus and Madrid Municipal’s Transport Company (EMT) have also voiced their opposition to the lingering mask rule.

So, will Iberia’s views make a difference to the Spanish government’s stance regarding masks?

According to a report published in late October, the Spanish government’s health experts have agreed not to review face mask usage on public transport until March 2023.

The article, which cites internal sources from Spain’s government, adds that the country’s Public Health Commission (a body which advises Spain’s Health Ministry on which measures to introduce) has reportedly agreed to shelve any possible changes until March, and as things stand keep the rule in place “for an indefinite time” as “it is not the right time to remove masks due to the arrival of winter”.

Spain’s Health Ministry, however, argues that no fixed date for reviewing face mask legislation has been set.

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