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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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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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