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FACE MASKS

UPDATE: When will masks stop being mandatory indoors in Spain?

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has stressed that masks will “very soon” no longer be required in indoor public settings, but with Covid-19 infections still relatively high in the country, when is the mask rule likely to actually be scrapped?

When will masks stop being mandatory indoors?
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez removes his face mask as he addresses media during an EU summit. When will his government lift the indoor face mask requirement? Photo: Olivier HOSLET/POOL / AFP

READ THIS UPDATE FIRST: Spain to scrap indoor face mask rule on April 20th

In early February, the Spanish government decided that face masks would no longer be required outdoors after making their use mandatory again in December 2021 when Spain was struggling to contain record Omicron cases.

As the country’s sixth coronavirus wave has since subsided, the attention has turned to when face masks will stop being compulsory in indoor public settings.

On Sunday March 6th, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated for the second time in a week that the rule would be lifted “soon, very soon”.

Sánchez did stress however that the decision is in the hands of Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias, who will have to meet with regional authorities and health experts to reach some consensus regarding the indoor face mask rule.

Spanish epidemiologists did suggest in February that masks indoors would likely continue to be mandatory until at least the summer of 2022, either when the fortnightly infection rate falls below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants or when there is no longer community transmission.

Spain’s epidemiological situation has improved drastically over the past month but the infection rate is still above 400 cases per 100,000.

Although scientific evidence will no doubt play a big part in this, the final decision will more likely be influenced by the Spanish government’s change in stance regarding the pandemic and its desire to return to normality, particularly in terms of tourism and the economy. 

Spain wants to lead a global push for Covid-19 to be monitored as an endemic disease similar to seasonal influenza, which explains why this week they will go from reporting on infections on a daily basis to twice a week, and from publishing vaccination rates every work day to once a week.

France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom are some of the European countries that have already lifted their indoor face mask rules. 

Most Spanish health experts continue to be in favour of a gradual de-escalation of the indoor mask rule, rather than eliminating the requirement from all indoor public spaces all at once.

In mid-February Spain’s paediatricians proposed that masks first be scrapped from school classrooms, acting as “a mirror for the rest of society” of what this would mean for Covid infections. 

So far, Catalonia is the only region to have done this, and not all paediatricians agree with the proposal, even though children’s capacity to develop serious Covid symptoms and infect others is lower than for adults.  

So the main question that remains is what Prime Minister Sánchez meant by “very soon”, as well as the conclusions reached at a key meeting between Spain’s Health Ministry and the regions on March 10th in Zaragoza. 

For epidemiologists, removing the rule in the coming days would be too soon, and most believe the fortnightly infection rate must, at the very least, be below 100 cases for masks to no longer be required indoors. 

At the current rate of descent, this could happen in three to five weeks. 

The Catalan ‘case study’, the only region which is currently testing how ditching masks from classrooms will affect infections, could also play a pivotal role in deciding whether masks are not required in some indoor settings but are still mandatory in others.

Whatever the outcome, a final decision by Spain’s health ministry will affect the whole national territory as mask regulations –  unlike other Covid restrictions – are set by the Spanish government, not the regional governments.

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TRAVEL NEWS

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

Britons, Americans and other non-EU/Schengen travellers who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered from Covid-19 will not be able to visit Spain for tourism for at least another month, Spanish authorities have confirmed.

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

The Spanish government has again extended temporary restrictions for non-essential travel (including tourism) from most third countries for another month, until June 15th 2022.

That means that non-EU/Schengen adults who reside outside of the EU and who haven’t been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from the illness in the past six months cannot go on holiday to Spain during the next month. 

Therefore, Spain continues to not accept negative Covid-19 tests from British, American, Canadian, Indian or other third-country nationals who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered. 

There had been hopes that the shorter two-week extension to the ban on non-essential travel issued on April 30th, as well as talk of the “orderly and progressive reopening” of the country’s borders, would mean that unvaccinated third country nationals would be allowed into Spain in May.

But in the end, Saturday May 14th’s state bulletin confirmed that Spain will keep the same measures in place for another 31 days, stating that they “will eventually be modified to respond to a change of circumstances or to new recommendations in the context of the European Union”.

Spain’s ban on unvaccinated non-EU travellers is arguably the last major Covid-19 restriction in place in the country, and other EU countries such as Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Ireland are allowing unvaccinated tourists in.

This latest announcement by the Spanish government marks the umpteenth extension to non-essential travel from outside of the EU/Schengen area over the past two years of the pandemic, the previous one was due to expire on May 15th. 

But perhaps this extension is the most surprising, as the Spanish health ministry has modified its rulebook to treat Covid-19 like the flu and the country wants to recover the tourism numbers it had pre-pandemic.

The ban affects unvaccinated British tourists in particular, as the UK is still the biggest tourism market for Spain, but Britons’ non-EU status means they have to follow the same Covid-19 travel rules as other third-country nationals.

Vaccinated or recovered third-country travellers

Those who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 more than two weeks prior to travel to Spain will need to show a valid vaccination certificate with an EMA or WHO approved vaccine.

If their initial vaccination treatment was completed more than 9 months ago (270 days), they’ll need to show they’ve had a Covid-19 booster shot. 

As for non-EU/Schengen travellers who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, they will need to show a recovery certificate to prove this

According to Spain’s Health Ministry, recovery certificates accepted as valid are those “issued at least 11 days after the first positive NAAT or RAT, and up to a maximum of 180 days after the date of sampling”, as well as being issued by the relevant authorities.

Exceptions

In early February, Spanish authorities also decided to start allowing unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen teenagers aged 12 to 17 to visit Spain for tourism if they provided a negative PCR.

Spain continues to have a small list of low-risk third countries whose travellers visiting Spain for non-essential reasons can enter without having to present proof of Covid-19 testing, recovery or vaccination. 

This is updated weekly and can be checked here by clicking on the PDF under “risk and high risk countries/areas”. 

READ ALSO: Can I travel to my second home in Spain if I’m not vaccinated?

If you’re not vaccinated or recovered, the exceptions for travel to Spain from third countries that fall under the non-essential travel restrictions are:

  • You are a resident in the EU or Schengen country.
  • You have a visa for a long duration stay in an EU or Schengen country.
  • You work in transport, such as airline staff or are in a maritime profession.
  • You work in diplomatic, consular, international organisations, military or civil protection or are a member of a humanitarian organisation.
  • You have a student visa for a country in the EU or Schengen zone.
  • You are a highly qualified worker or athlete whose work cannot be postponed or carried out remotely.
  • You are travelling for duly accredited imperative family reasons.
  • You are allowed entry due to force majeure or on humanitarian grounds.
  • And as mentioned earlier in the article, if you have a vaccination certificate that Spain’s Ministry of Health recognises, as well as for any accompanying minors (unless they’re under 12 years of age).

READ ALSO: When do I need to fill out Spain’s Covid health control form for travel?

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