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FACE MASKS

EXPLAINED: When do you still have to wear a mask outdoors in Spain?

From today, Thursday February 10th 2022, it’s no longer compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors at all times in Spain. But there are some situations where mask wearing in outdoor settings is still required. 

SPAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS-MASK
Whether you're going for a jog or just a leisurely walk in Spain, neither situation will require the use of a face mask outdoors anymore. But there are some exceptions to the rule. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

On Friday February 4th, the Spanish government decided that wearing a face mask in outdoor public spaces should no longer be compulsory, only three days after they used every trick in the book to maintain the measure.

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

Masks were first made compulsory outdoors in Spain in May 2020 as the country emerged from the full national lockdown, the rule was then scrapped for six months from June to December 2021 as Covid infections dropped, but with the spike in Omicron cases this winter the government chose to reintroduce the outdoor mask rule rule last Christmas Eve. 

After approval by the regions and the Spanish cabinet, it was decided that the outdoor mask rule would be again lifted across all of Spain on Thursday February 10th.

But according to the BOE state bulletin which explains the legislation, there are still situations in outdoor public settings where everyone over the age of six has to wear a face mask. 

When you still have to wear a mask outdoors in Spain:

  • At large, crowded events held in the open air where it’s not possible to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from others if seated, or in all cases where attendees are standing up. This includes concerts and sporting events.
  • At open-air transport platforms for train, tramway, metro etc

Although it’s not mandatory to wear a face mask outdoors if walking along a crowded street where you can’t keep a 1.5 metre distance from others, the recommendation from Spain’s Health Ministry is to wear one in busy areas.

Spain’s regions are also currently deciding whether school children should have to wear face masks on the playground, with most regional authorities leaning towards scrapping the mask rule.

It’s worth noting that it continues to be compulsory to wear a mask in all indoor situations except when eating and drinking or any other activity which is incompatible with mask wearing. 

READ ALSO: When will masks stop being mandatory indoors in Spain?

So carrying a face mask with you is necessary if you want to enter bars, restaurants, cafés, shops, libraries or any other indoor public building. 

It is also still mandatory to wear a face mask on public transport and if you are in a private vehicle with people who you don’t live with. 

Who is exempt from having to wear a mask indoors and outdoors 

  • Children under the age of six

  • People with breathing difficulties or respiratory problems whose condition could worsen as a result of wearing a face mask. 

  • Those with a disability or who are dependent who’s state of mind or conduct make it unfeasible for them to wear a mask.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

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

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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