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COVID-19

Covid health pass: Spain’s Catalonia and Navarre get green light from judges

Two Spanish regions on Thursday received approval from their regional high courts to implement the Covid health pass in the hospitality sector and for large events, a sign that the use of this document for daily affairs could become more common in Spain.

Covid health pass: Spain's Catalonia and Navarre get green light from judges
Will more Spanish regions get approval to introduce the Covid health pass ahead of Christmas? Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

Is the Covid health pass for daily matters be about to finally take off in Spain?

Catalonia’s High Court on Thursday approved the use of the Digital Covid Certificate for bars, restaurants, gyms and nursing homes. 

Similarly, the High Court of Navarre also authorised its use on Thursday for restaurants with more than 60 customers, nightclubs and large cultural events. 

The court decisions may mark a change in direction for a health document used domestically across most of the EU but which in Spain has never really been enforced apart from for travel. 

READ MORE: Why has the Covid health pass for daily affairs been rejected in Spain and not elsewhere in Europe?

That’s because in the vast majority of previous cases when regional governments imposed the health pass’s usage, local judges ruled against it for breaching fundamental rights and not being suitable or beneficial for the epidemiological situation at the time. 

Without the special powers awarded to regional governments during the country’s two states of alarm – which have since also been ruled as unconstitutional – local officials have had no choice but to scrap the Digital Covid Certificate for daily matters. 

This time however the Navarran High Court has said the requirement of the Covid health pass is “suitable, necessary and proportionate”, even though Covid hospitalisations and deaths are much lower than at previous stages of the pandemic. The judges’ argument is that the Covid health pass is a “softer” measure that breaches fewer fundamental rights and has “less of an impact” than other Covid restrictions.  

Navarre and Catalonia do have among the worst fortnightly infection rates in the country currently, with 431 and 202 cases per 100,000 people respectively.  

“Catalonia needs an extra way to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed, without having to apply new restrictions,” Catalan government spokesperson Patricia Plaja said on Tuesday with regard to the Covid health pass and her region’s rising hospitalisation rate, a decision this time Catalan judges have agreed with. 

In Navarre, where the city of Pamplona is the capital, police officers will be responsible for ensuring that bars, restaurants and other establishments require the Covid health pass from customers. 

Many Spanish regions attempted to impose the Covid health pass for public spaces during the summer period but until now, it has only been approved for nightlife venues in Galicia, the Balearic Islands and Catalonia.   

With infections again rising, numerous autonomous communities have once more requested the Covid health pass be approved by their high courts or that Spain’s national government move for it to be implemented across the country, something Spain’s Health Ministry has ruled out. 

So although it may be too soon to say that showing the Covid health pass to enjoy a coffee or meal out will become the norm across all of Spain, more regions may follow Catalonia and Navarre’s example ahead of Christmas.

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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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