Spanish warned about Christmas parties after Málaga Covid outbreak

Scientists have called for caution and warned that seasonal celebrations could turn into superspreader events after at least 68 people tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a work celebration in Málaga.

Spanish warned about Christmas parties after Málaga Covid outbreak
Health minister Carolina Darias has insisted that masks be used outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Photo: Josep LAGO/AFP

A work lunch held by staff from the Hospital Regional in Málaga ended up becoming a huge superspreader event when 68 of the 173 health professionals from the intensive care unit (ICU) team were infected by Covid-19.

Experts pointed to the event as an example of the risks that lie ahead during this festive season, and called for people to be cautious and avoid meeting in large groups of people.

All of those infected in Málaga had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, but the event has resulted in the participants having to go into quarantine, thus putting more pressure on healthcare services.

It’s a reminder that, despite high vaccination rates, Covid-19 is still circulating in Spain and social distancing measures are still important when it comes to reducing the spread of the virus.

READ ALSO: Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination

Cases continue to rise day by day, and the Omicron variant is worrying scientists. So far 13 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Spain. The variant is thought to be less dangerous than Delta but more transmissible.

An average of 7,005 cases per day were reported in Spain in the last week, a much lower number than in neighbouring France, where the average is of 41,463 cases per day.

Spanish health authorities have called for people to limit the number of participants taking part in social gatherings over Christmas especially, although this remains a recommendation and no number has been given.

However for now, Spain’s Health Ministry has no plans to impose drastic measures and leaving it up to each region – which have their own healthcare systems and vaccination programmes – to impose their own restrictions.

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Government spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez said in a press conference last week that “what matters is vaccination”, seeing vaccines and facemasks as the “tools for success” against the virus.

“After 15 months fighting the virus we’ve learnt how to deal with it without having to stop the economy in its tracks,” she said.

READ ALSO: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Health minister Carolina Darias called on people to get vaccinated and insisted that masks should be used outdoors when social distancing is not possible, particularly this time of year when people are gathering in large crowds on the street.

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Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

The Spanish government's health experts have agreed not to review face mask usage on public transport until March 2023, a new report has found, by which stage almost a whole year will have passed since other face mask rules were lifted.

Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

Although masks haven’t been mandatory in indoor public settings (except hospitals, pharmacies, care homes and other health-related centres) since April 20th 2022, face coverings must still be worn on public transport in Spain, such as on buses, planes, taxis, metro carriages and trains.

According to a report published in Spanish news site Voz Populi, Spain’s Emergency Unit has agreed not to review Spain’s face mask rules until March 2023, even though all other Covid-19 domestic and travel restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022.

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”.

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

“We’re taking the German approach,” the Emergency Unit source told Voz Populi about the fact that Germany is the only other country in Europe with similar mask-wearing rules to Spain.

On October 1st, new measures were brought into force in Germany stating that passengers over the age of 14 must wear FFP2 masks on long-distance trains rather than surgical ones, with the German government saying it will not review the legislation until April 2023.

Fernando Simón, Spain’s Health Emergencies chief, told journalists recently that “it’s okay to wait a little bit to see how the disease evolves” before making a decision regarding the complete removal of face masks.

However, if Spanish health experts are indeed looking to follow in the footsteps of Germany, there is even a possibility that the return of face masks to all indoor public settings this winter could happen, or at least a debate about it. 

An increase in Covid and flu cases that’s overburdened hospitals this autumn, as well as the emergence of the new Omicron subvariant BQ.1, has resulted in German authorities considering whether they should bring back old Covid-19 restrictions for the winter months.

Spain is also starting to see an increase in Covid and flu infections, and talk of an eighth coronavirus wave is rumbling in the background, but there has been no mention yet by Health Ministry representatives of a possible return to indoor face mask wearing across the board.