UPDATE: The Spanish Parliament on Tuesday night voted in favour of keeping the requirement of wearing masks in outdoor public spaces, following a controversial vote which has been described as “blackmail” and “a joke”. Find out more by clicking here.
Monday January 31st 2022 marked two years since the first case of the coronavirus was detected in Spain. More than 700 days later, the country’s Covid infection tally is now above ten million.
There have been just as many cases during this sixth coronavirus wave – 4.8 million since October – than during all previous waves (4.9 million cases), with the Omicron variant to blame for this.
The high transmissibility of this Covid-19 strain is what pushed the Spanish government to make face masks compulsory outdoors again on December 22nd, a rule applicable from Christmas Eve 2021 until now.
The decision, equally as unpopular among a population with pandemic fatigue as with health experts who argued it would have a “minimum impact” on infection rates, is set to be debated in the Spanish Parliament on Tuesday.
Spain’s fortnightly infection rate was around 700 cases per 100,000 when the outdoor face mask rule returned and the rate is now above 3,000.
So will the Spanish Parliament get rid of the rule?
Opposition parties PP, Vox and Ciudadanos have announced they will vote to revoke the rule, although among coalition government members and their political allies there isn’t such a clear, common stance yet.
Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias continues to defend that “face masks are one of the measures that help most”, although her comments also referred to mask-wearing indoors.
On Friday, Darias told journalists that “all the data shows that we’ve passed the peak” of Spain’s sixth coronavirus wave as “the infection rate drop is consolidated day after day”.
So it may be that this milestone, coupled with the overall criticism of the measure from virologists, spurs Spain’s left-wing coalition government to vote in favour of scrapping the outdoor face mask legislation for the whole national territory.
What seems unlikely is that there will be changes to the rules regarding mask wearing in indoor public spaces, for which infections would have to be in a low risk category for health authorities to consider.
Face masks were first made compulsory in public in Spain in May 2020 as the country emerged from its first full lockdown.
In March 2021, the Spanish government tightened the rules to require people to wear masks in almost all indoor and outdoor settings even if people kept to the safety distance, unless the activity was incompatible with mask wearing ie. eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc
The backlash it caused after locals and tourists realised this would mean they would have to wear a mask while sunbathing or at the pool led Spanish authorities to tweak the legislation to allow some exceptions.
Wearing a face mask outdoors when a safe distance of 1.5 metres from others could be kept wasn’t compulsory from June 26th 2021 until December 24th 2022.