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COVID-19 RULES

U-turn: Spain decides to ditch outdoor face mask rule

The Spanish government has decided that wearing a face mask in outdoor public spaces will no longer be compulsory from next week onwards, the country’s health minister announced on Friday morning, only three days after the Spanish Parliament voted to maintain the measure.

Why has the Spanish government changed its mind so quickly vis-a-vis face masks outdoors? Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP
Why has the Spanish government changed its mind so quickly vis-a-vis face masks outdoors? Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

“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.

Member comments

  1. “Spain, together with Scotland and Italy, are the only countries in the EU which are still requiring their citizens to wear face masks outdoors.”

    Scotland don’t and have never required masks outdoors.

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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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