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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Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Spain's Health Minister has announced that in the coming days masks will no longer be mandatory on planes, buses, trains, taxis and other means of public transport.

Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday confirmed that face masks would no longer be compulsory on public transport, a measure which has been in place in Spain for almost three years. 

“I will raise the proposal of eliminating the mandatory use of masks on public transport”, she said, adding that next week she will convene with the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System to “put this measure into effect”.  

Darias did not specify exactly when this would happen, although government agreements are usually approved the following day in the Official State Gazette (BOE), so the official end to the mask rule looks set to be on February 8th.

The minister did clarify however that masks would still be mandatory in health settings such as health centres and hospitals “as health experts advise”. 

Last week, Darias reported the possibility of eliminating the mandatory mask rule in pharmacies, but this is currently being “weighed up” by health experts.  

Manuel Franco, an expert in Public Health and a member of the Spanish Society of Public Health and Sanitary Administration (Sespas) explained that “the World Health Organisation (WHO) is already considering the decision to lift the public health emergency warning for Covid-19” and adds that “if this goes ahead, it would make no sense to maintain the mask rule”.  

The use of masks ceased to be mandatory outdoors almost a year ago, on February 10th, 2022.

Then, two months later on April 20th, the government announced they wouldn’t be required indoors either, except in health centres and on public transport. 

The latest bulletin of Sentinel Surveillance of Acute Respiratory Infection in Primary Care (ARIs) and in Hospitals (SARI), announced a drop in infections and hospitalisations and said that the rates for Covid-19 remain stable.

The decision to end the mask rule in February comes after health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health said that masks should no longer be required on public transport

On Wednesday, January 25th the director of the Health Alerts and Emergencies Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health (CCAES), Fernando Simón, assured that the end of the mask rule on transport would be announced “shortly” either “next week or the following”.  

Then, on Thursday morning, government spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, stated that the decision to remove the mask on public transport would be taken “immediately, when possible”, but pointed out that the government was looking at the situation in China first.