People in Spain will have to continue wearing face masks in outdoor settings in February.
Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias has again said that the compulsory outdoor mask rule – which was reintroduced on Christmas Eve 2021 as Omicron cases spiked – is “strictly temporary”.
A last-minute vote on Tuesday night in the Spanish Parliament saw a narrow win for the ruling left-wing government, with 162 votes in favour, 153 against and 28 abstentions.
Bizarrely, or some may say cunningly, the decree that was up for a vote included the extension of the outdoor face mask legislation as well as a proposed increase in pensions due to rising inflation, meaning that a vote against face masks outdoors would also mean a vote against this extra pay for pensioners.
The move appears to have slightly tipped the balance in favour of the mask rules, with votes in favour from the Basque National Party (PNV) and Valencia’s Compromís deciding the vote, the former arguing that it should be the regional government which get to decide whether to maintain or scrap the outdoor face mask rule.
Catalan Republican Party ERC and Mas País, whose leader Iñigo Errejón had criticised the outdoor face mask rule previously, were forced to abstain.
Left-wing wing Basque Party EH Bildu also begrudgingly abstained, calling the vote “a trap”.
MPs belonging to opposition parties PP, Vox and Ciudadanos, who still decided to vote against the passing of the decree, have described the vote as “blackmail”, “a mockery”, “fraudulent” and “a joke”.
“It had to seem like they were doing something,” Ciudadanos MP Guillermo Díaz said in response.
“They couldn’t think what that was so someone said let’s just keep face masks outdoors.”
Spain has now officially reached 10 million Covid-19 infections since the pandemic started two years ago, with around half of these recorded during Spain’s current sixth coronavirus wave.
The fortnightly infection rate is triple what it was when outdoor face masks were reintroduced on December 24th – around 2,600 cases per 100,000 compared to 700 – but the incidence has been dropping in recent days and Health Minister Darias has announced that “all the data shows that we’ve passed the peak” of Spain’s sixth coronavirus wave and “face masks are one of the measures that help most”.
“We’re on the right track but have to be prudent, it won’t be long before we change it (the face mask legislation),” Darias said following the vote.
When masks in the open air became the rule again at Christmas, most health experts called into question the measure, arguing it would have very little impact in reducing Omicron infections, as most of these were taking place in indoor settings.
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.