Spain’s Catalonia suspends Covid health pass as website crashes

Catalonia suspended the launch on Friday of new rules requiring a Covid pass to enter bars and restaurants in the Spanish region after its website was unable to keep up with demand for permits.

Spain's Catalonia suspends Covid health pass as website crashes
Catalonia has "decided to temporarily suspend" use of the pass because the website that issued them had crashed due to "very intense traffic". Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

Until now, Catalonia has only required the so-called “Covid passport” for nightclubs, but on Friday extended it to include bars, restaurants, gyms or care homes.

It is not required for customers sitting on bar or restaurant terraces.

READ MORE: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

The wealthy northeastern region, became the first in Spain to require a Covid pass to enter bars and restaurants, although other areas are mulling following suit due to rising infections.

But regional health minister Josep Maria Argimon announced on Friday afternoon that the Catalan government had “decided to temporarily suspend” use of the pass because the website that issued them had crashed due to “very intense traffic”.

“We will analyse the whole situation again on Monday. We are working to technologically reinforce the portal,” he said.

Although Spain’s infection rate remains far below that seen elsewhere in Europe, thanks to its high vaccination rate, officials are worried the surge in cases will spiral as the Christmas holidays near.

Four other regions, including Galicia in the northwest and the Balearic Islands, have started to demand proof of vaccination or recent recovery from Covid to enter nightlife venues.

Other regions such as Valencia in the east and Andalusia in the south are also mulling a similar move following steps already in place in other European nations like Italy and France.

Under Spain’s decentralised system of government, the regional authorities are responsible for health and managing the Covid crisis.

However, the requirement for a Covid pass needs the approval of the regional courts, and judges have not always agreed.

In the northern Basque Country, a court denied the regional authority’s request, arguing its “indiscriminate” use was “not justified” given the high level of vaccination.

The Basque government has appealed to Spain’s Supreme Court, which in September gave the green light to Galicia’s request for a Covid pass, albeit with reservations.

While those in the bar and restaurant sector prefer the pass to outright closures, they remain worried about “difficulties in implementing” the system with staff required to check documents, hospitality lobby group CEHE said in a statement.

With nearly 90 percent of people over the age of 12 fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the impact of the pandemic is being felt far less now than in the early months when the virus swept through Spain in March 2020.

Nationwide occupancy of intensive care beds by Covid patients stands at just over six percent, although in Catalonia it is above 12 percent.

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Catalonia to give automatic five-day sick leave to people with Covid symptoms

The Catalan Health Ministry has introduced a new way of asking for sick leave from work for those with Covid-19 symptoms. The leave will automatically be given for five days, without the need to present a positive test.

Catalonia to give automatic five-day sick leave to people with Covid symptoms

Catalan Health Service Director Gemma Craywickel, along with the Catalan Public Health Secretary Carmen Cabezas, announced the move during a press conference on Tuesday.

Workers with Covid symptoms can now ask for sick leave from their job through the Meva Salut website, app or via the appointment website here, without the need to present a positive antigen or PCR test. The new service has been available since Tuesday, July 5th.

All that is needed is to log on with a CIP number and password or digital certificate and click on ‘altres servis’ (other services), followed by ‘Programar visites d’atenció primària’, where you usually make an appointment. 

Those who apply will automatically be given sick leave for the next five days, which will be confirmed via text message or e-mail.

If symptoms persist longer than five days, authorities say you should contact your local health centre to ask for the leave to be extended.

The move was introduced in a bid to take the pressure off local health services who attended 105,024 patients in the last week, 16 percent more than during the previous week.

Around 9.07 percent of people who visited hospitals in the region on Monday July 4th -15,817 patients – had symptoms compatible with Covid-19.

In addition, within the last four weeks, Catalan health services have seen 85 percent more patients with acute respiratory illnesses, thought to be a result of Covid-19 infections.

“The measure aims to free up resources for people who really them,” explained Craywinckel.

“It’s a way of simplifying administrative procedures. We already know what the symptoms are, so there is no need for the patient to explain to us face-to-face or over the phone,” she continued.

The number of Covid-19 infections in Catalonia has risen by 15 percent in the last week, with 2,032 hospital admissions, the highest number since mid-February 2022.

There have also been 51 Covid-19 patients admitted to Catalan ICUs in the last week.

Catalan Public Health Secretary Carmen Cabezas called on people to respect the requirement to continue wearing face masks on public transport and said that vulnerable people should keep wearing masks in indoor public spaces too. 

READ MORE: What are the specific mask rules for public transport and travel in Spain?

This is not the first time the Catalan health authorities have introduced an automatic sick leave system for those with Covid-19.

A similar service was introduced earlier this year during the height of the sixth wave, with a seven-day leave period plus the need to present a positive Covid-19 test.

Andalusia also introduced a similar automatic sick leave system for those with Covid-19 and a positive test back in February 2022.