Spain’s big cities cancel New Year’s celebrations as Covid infection records continue

Eight of Spain’s most populous cities have cancelled outdoor celebrations to ring in the new year, as the country records its highest national infection rate since the pandemic began. 

Don't expect New Year's celebration in Barcelona this year, where the regional government has reimposed a night-time curfew. (Photo by ANGEL GARCIA / AFP)
Don't expect many New Year's outdoor celebrations in Barcelona this year, where the regional government has reimposed a night-time curfew. (Photo by ANGEL GARCIA / AFP)

By the time the clock strikes 12 on December 31st, as many as one in every 50 people in Spain could have Covid-19. 

That’s the worrying prediction by some Spanish health experts who are seeing how the country’s fortnightly infection rate has snowballed in recent days to the current 1,208 cases per 100,000 – the highest since the Covid-19 pandemic began –  jumping 300 points in just three days. 

In Navarre, La Rioja and the Basque Country the incidence of the virus is already at or above 2,000, meaning that one out of every 50 people in the three northern regions is currently infected with Covid-19. 

They’re unprecedented figures that are forcing regional governments to bring back old Covid restrictions and city halls to cancel the ‘campanadas’, the New Year bell chimes that see crowds bunch up in their town hall squares to ring in the ‘año nuevo’ while eating 12 grapes.

So far Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, Zaragoza, Murcia, Málaga, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Palma de Mallorca have announced they will not be holding or allowing mass celebrations in their city centres. Countless other smaller towns and villages across Spain have also decided they will not hold any gatherings or parties. 

Madrid, where every New Year’s Eve tens of thousands gather at the iconic Puerta del Sol square, is the only big city which has so far not announced it will shelve celebrations. For regional leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso, “it makes no sense to close everything if in a matter of days cases will start dropping”. 

Everywhere else in Spain, there appears to be far more concern. 

Regional authorities in Aragón, Navarre, the Basque Country, La Rioja, Cantabria and Asturias have all agreed to tighten nightlife restrictions further ahead of New Year’s Eve as their infections have been skyrocketing after Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Amid these growing restrictions and rising case numbers, frustrated nightclub owners and other party organisers have seen a wave of cancellations in recent days and expect around 50 percent of the attendance of normal years. 

Spain’s Health Ministry on Monday informed of another record number of daily infections – 214,619 new cases – although this includes cases not notified over the Christmas weekend. 

“It’s true that we are dealing with the Omicron variant; we’ll see very high numbers of infections, but not hospitalisations,” Pedro Sánchez said in response to the latest figures, which are more than double or quadruple other daily records set the previous week. 

The stats show that pressure on Spain’s hospitals has increased but not at the explosive pace of previous waves. 

Currently, there are 9,530 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 throughout Spain (7,924 last Thursday) and 1,715 admitted to the ICU (1,515 Thursday). 

In addition, in the last three days Spain’s Health Ministry has announced 120 new Covid deaths in the country, 200 over the last week. 

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Spain’s Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Spain’s flagship airline Iberia has criticised the Spanish government’s ongoing mask requirement for passengers on planes bound to the country, stressing that it “doesn’t make any sense” and “it affects tourism”.

Spain's Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Although the majority of Spain’s domestic and travel Covid-19 restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022, one of the only rules that still remains in place is the obligation of wearing a face mask on public transport. 

This includes aeroplanes, buses, trains, taxis and some ferries, but mask wearing isn’t compulsory at airports, ports or bus and train stations. 

For officials of Spain’s flagship airline Iberia, the time has come for this rule to be lifted.

“One of the airline industry’s main concerns is that mask wearing doesn’t make much sense,” Iberia’s Corporate Communications Director Juan Cierco said during a business talk organised by Spanish news agency Europa Press on Monday.

“We’re the only country along with China and one or two more that still has this rule.”

Cierco added, whilst putting on a mask to prove a point, that: “Here we are with seven ministers, none of them are wearing a mask, so getting on a plane now to or from Spain and being forced to wear a mask doesn’t make sense”.

The corporate director stressed that he wasn’t questioning the view of health experts but couldn’t understand why almost all other countries ditched the mask rule for public transport long ago.

“We should take off our masks because it’s affecting tourism and business now. Many international passengers tell us that they prefer to fly to other destinations or with other airlines, because 10 hours with the mask on board a plane, when it is no longer necessary or essential for health reasons, it just doesn’t make any sense”.

As things stand, the general rule is that cabin crew from all airlines have to tell passengers on planes bound to Spain that they have to masks. 

If on the other hand the aircraft is flying out of Spain, the mask rules of the country which the plane is flying to apply, which in almost all cases means face coverings aren’t required.

READ ALSO: Masks still compulsory on planes in Spain despite confusion

Spain’s Confederation of Bus Transport (Confebús), German company FlixBus and Madrid Municipal’s Transport Company (EMT) have also voiced their opposition to the lingering mask rule.

So, will Iberia’s views make a difference to the Spanish government’s stance regarding masks?

According to a report published in late October, the Spanish government’s health experts have agreed not to review face mask usage on public transport until March 2023.

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”.

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