“I can confirm that on Tuesday February 8th, we’ll take the Royal Decree to the Spanish Cabinet through which we will cancel the outdoor face mask rule,” Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias confirmed on Friday morning during an interview on Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.
“Prior to that on Monday, we’ll hold an interterritorial meeting between the regional governments to debate the legislation”.
Depending on how long it takes to approve the legislation in the Spanish Cabinet and then the Parliament, it’s expected that the outdoor face mask rule will be lifted either on Wednesday February 9th or Thursday February 10th.
The new rules will likely still require people in Spain to wear face masks outdoors in busy places where they can’t keep a safe distance of 1.5 metres from others. Masks will continue to be mandatory in indoor public settings across the country.
The news comes just three days after the Spanish Parliament 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”.
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.
This spurred a narrow win for the ruling left-wing government, with 162 votes in favour, 153 against and 28 abstentions, leaving those who voted against maintaining the outdoor face mask rule far from impressed with the sleight of hand.
When Darias was asked why the left-wing coalition government had pushed so hard for the legislation to pass only to announce so soon after that it would be revoked, she said: “It was a measure of caution which we did say would be strictly temporary and only until the indicators we look at day by day suggested we should make changes to the (face mask) measure”.
Several autonomous communities such as Madrid, Catalonia, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Galicia have put pressure on the national government in recent days for face masks to no be longer mandatory outdoors, arguing that health experts have spoken out against the measure as not effective enough in reducing the spread of Omicron.
Spain, together with Scotland and Italy, are the only countries in the EU which required their citizens to wear face masks outdoors during this latest coronavirus wave.
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.