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COVID-19 RULES

Spain’s Catalonia to impose Christmas curfew to fight Covid surge

Spain's Catalonia will reimpose a night-time curfew starting Christmas Eve to fight a record spike in Covid-19 infections in the northeastern region, a decision which will affect most New Year's celebrations.

Police arrive to ask people enjoying a night out to leave as a curfew comes into effect in the Born neighbourhood of Barcelona early on July 17, 2021.
Police in Barcelona's El Born neighbourhood ask partygoers to go home as a night-time curfew came into force in the Catalan capital last summer. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

It is the first Spanish region to reinstate a nightly curfew in response to surging infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.

Catalonia’s regional government earlier this month asked the courts to approve a nightly curfew between 1:00 am and 6:00 am in areas where infection rates surpass 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a criteria met by virtually the entire region.

It also sought permission to close nightclubs, cap indoor restaurant capacity at 50 percent, and limit gyms and theatres to 70 percent capacity to try to curb infections over the holidays.

The measures will start on Friday and will last 15 days, affecting most New Year’s celebrations.

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The court said the measures were “proportional” and had struck a balance between “a limited restriction of rights” and the “protection of individual and community heath”.

Spain has around 80 percent of its population of 47 million people vaccinated — one of the highest rates in the world.

Until recently, it had avoided the surge in infections seen elsewhere in Europe which led to tighter rules.

But the arrival of the Omicron variant of the virus has fuelled infections, with a record of just over 60,000 new cases recorded on Wednesday, even if hospital admissions and ICU occupancy remain lower compared to previous Covid-19 waves.

“Omicron has changed the panorama. We must reintroduce measures which we don’t like but which are necessary,” the head of Catalonia’s regional government, Pere Aragones, said Wednesday.

Omicron accounted for around half of total Covid-19 infections in Spain in the week ending on December 12, having shot up from just 3.0 percent the week before, according to health ministry data.

Catalonia has been especially hard-hit by the latest wave of infections, with around 30 percent of its intensive care unit beds occupied by Covid patients, twice the national average.

The region of around 7.7 million people on the border with France and Barcelona as capital imposed a nightly 1-6 am curfew in mid-July in most municipalities due to rising infections.

A court ordered it lifted the following month after infections dropped, arguing it was no longer justified.

Spain’s central government imposed a nationwide nightly curfew in October 2020. It was lifted in May 2021.

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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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