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COVID-19 RULES

Spain’s Catalonia says close contacts of all Covid infections must quarantine, even if fully vaccinated

Faced with a surge in cases of the new Omicron variant, Catalan health officials have said all close contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19 - of any strain - must self-isolate, regardless of whether they’re double vaccinated or not.

Spain's Catalonia says close contacts of all Covid infections must quarantine, even if fully vaccinated
People attend a rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata in Barcelona last Christmas. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

On Friday December 17th, Catalonia’s Health Department announced it would change its health protocol so that all close contacts of positive patients – of any COVID-19 strain – will have to quarantine from Monday December 20th, even if they have been double vaccinated.

This measure had previously only applied for cases of the Omicron variant, but regional health boss Josep Maria Argimon fears the new variant will make up the majority of cases in a week or ten days, and dominate cases in the new year.

Twenty percent of samples anaylsed in Catalonia are already suspected of being the omicron variant, a figure that rises to 25 percent in the Barcelona area.

The Catalan Generalitat government’s scientific advisory committee is meeting on Friday afternoon to consider the rise in numbers, and possibly implement measures to halt the rise in cases.

In early December, Spain’s Health Ministry said that people in close contact with those infected with the Omicron, Beta and Gamma variants must quarantine for ten days, although regional health authorities have the power to decide whether to fully apply these rules.

Catalonia’s approach to require quarantine from close contacts of all variants solves the issue of not knowing which strain a person is infected with, as the three PCR tests conducted to ascertain the variant are not always conclusive and usually require complex sequencing.

“There is a new variant, a new element to take into account and all situations must be evaluated,” Argimon explained this week, hinting at new measures.

The new rules on contact isolation are hoped to, in part, slow the spread of the new virus.

But Catalonia is not alone: the Madrid region is also facing a surge in omicron cases. According to healthcare sources, the omicron variant accounts for over 30 percent of cases diagnosed in some hospitals.

The regional health minister, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, estimated today that as many as 60 percent of new COVID-19 cases are of the omicron strain.

On Friday, an Andalusian court approved measures requiring vaccination or negative test certificates for entry into bars, restaurants and other events.

Cases have been spiralling across Spain in recent weeks, though it is important to note that both hospitalisations and deaths, thanks to Spain’s effective vaccination programme, are nowhere close to the levels seen in the past.

As of this week, just 5 percent of all Spain’s hospital beds are taken up by COVID-19 patients and 14 percent of all intensive care units.

When infections spiked last January, Covid-19 patients took up 14 percent of all Spain’s hospital beds and 27 percent of intensive care units.

With cases increasing across Spain, it is expected other regions could follow Catalonia with new rules. Spain’s regions – each of which runs its own own healthcare systems, controls coronavirus restrictions and coordinates vaccination programs – will have decisions to make, but many are not offering detailed data yet, until the necessary genetic sequencing of samples can be completed, and it is believed that

Catalonia may be the first to reintroduce ore stringent restrictions to curb the spread of omicron, right before Christmas.

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FACE MASKS

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. 

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