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COVID-19 RULES

Spain votes to maintain outdoor face mask rule 

The Spanish Parliament on Tuesday night voted in favour of keeping the mandatory requirement of wearing masks in outdoor public spaces, following a controversial vote which has been described as "blackmail" and "a joke".

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Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez decided in late December 2021 to reintroduce face masks outdoors as his government's standout measure for combatting Omicron infections during the country's sixth coronavirus wave. Photo: Olivier Matthys / POOL / AFP

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. 

READ MORE: ‘Minimum impact’ – What Spain’s health experts think of the outdoor face mask rule

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.

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FACE MASKS

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spain’s Health Ministry has recommended Spaniards put their masks back on in indoor public settings, calling for "caution" as the seventh coronavirus wave sees cases and hospitalisations rise across the country.

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Friday recommended people wear face masks again in indoor public settings as Covid cases and hospitalisations in late June and early July returned to levels not seen since February 2022.

Darias called for “caution” and “responsible mask usage” at a time of increased travel in Spain and with many doctors and nurses booking off time for their summer holidays.

Similar sentiments about the return of face masks indoors have already been shared by the health authorities in some of Spain’s other regions, including Catalonia and Madrid. 

Catalan Health Minister Josep Maria Argimon recommended that those recovering from Covid should continue to wear a mask due to the increase in Covid patients admitted to the ICU in the region, which has increased from 26 to 46 in the space of three weeks.  

Madrid Vice President Enrique Ossorio also suggested that masks should be reintroduced in certain situations, due to the rise of cases seen in the region. Masks should be worn by “vulnerable people, those who are immunosuppressed and those who are pregnant,” he argued.

Ossorio also recommended that the use of face masks be extended to enclosed public spaces and large events.

After two years of compulsory usage in indoor public settings, Spanish authorities lifted the indoor face mask rule on April 20th, having already removed the requirement for outdoors on February 10th

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Spain’s Health Minister also urged that those aged 80 and over should receive a fourth Covid vaccine dose, but has not specified when this will happen, even though this was already been approved in early June.   

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

“The Health Ministry is going to continue working hand in hand with the advice of experts who’ve introduced an exemplary vaccination strategy,” Darias explained.

On Friday July 1st, 10,249 people were in hospital with Covid-19 in Spain, a figure not seen since February 17th 2022. As for ICU admissions, there were 449 Covid patients in total.

Madrid currently has a fortnightly infection rate of 1,500 cases per 100,00 inhabitants for people aged 60 and over, as Spain stopped counting each and every Covid-19 cases last March and focused only on serious infections and those affecting the elderly. 

That’s why experts are referring to this seventh coronavirus wave as the “silent” one, with no way of truly knowing how many people are getting infected or reinfected in Spain. 

Darias said that the Covid situation is being monitored carefully and that rise in cases is mainly down to the new omicron sub-variants BA4 and BA5, which are more transmissible but are milder than previous variants.

The Minister added that the Spanish government has provided its regions with medicines that are “very important” in the treatment of Covid, such as the antiviral Paxlovid, of which 344,000 sets of pills have been purchased, which help prevent an infected person from developing a serious illness, as well as Evusheld to protect people who do not generate their own antibodies. 

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