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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

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.

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