‘Im keeping it on’: As Spain’s outdoor mask rule ends, many remain cautious

Spain dropped the mandatory use of face masks outdoors on Thursday, though many people across the country have chosen to keep wearing them, with face coverings now an everyday staple.

People, some wearing face-masks, walk in a street as they enjoy a day out in Barcelona. It's no longer mandatory to wear a face mask in Spain but many prefer to keep it on. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Spain’s government first imposed obligatory mask-wearing outdoors in May 2020, lifted it in June last year and then reimposed the measure just before Christmas as Omicron cases exploded.

Now Spain’s 47 million inhabitants are back to not requiring a face mask outdoors anymore (wearing one indoors remains mandatory).

But even as rules eased across the country on Thursday, in Madrid, some kept them on out of habit.

READ ALSO: When do I still have to wear a mask outdoors in Spain?

“I’m wearing one and I’ll keep on doing so even though the law says I can take it off,” said Alberto Díaz, a pensioner from the southern Andalusia region who was in the city for a concert.

He’s one of many people across Spain who are choosing to keep their masks on. “I think that once the pandemic is over, I will continue to wear it, to avoid other viruses, outside and inside. It’s tiring sometimes, but it’s a habit now,” Argentinian tourist Sol Carvalho told AFP.

Face masks have been embraced across Spain in all public spaces, both inside and out, and they have largely become ubiquitous like in many cities in Asia.

Although they will remain compulsory at large open-air gatherings where social distancing is not possible, they will no longer be required in school playgrounds or busy streets, although it’s still recommended by Spain’s Health Ministry.

“I trust the people who have studied this, like the epidemiologists, and if they have given the order to remove the mask, it is because there is no danger,” argued Zaragoza resident María Jesús Remacha.

Soraya Baladés, a piano teacher who lives in the Spanish capital, said: “I really wanted to take it off because there wasn’t much sense in keeping the mask outside anymore, the mask should really be used inside, where the contaminations happen and not outside.”

Newlyweds Ricardo Alfredo Sánchez and Yvette Candero looked delighted as they had their photo taken in Puerta del Sol Square. “It’s not the same having a souvenir photo taken with your face covered, you can’t see the person’s expression or how happy they are,” said the groom.

“It was getting a little boring wearing the mask all the time and it just so happened that for this special occasion we had the opportunity to take it off.”

In another anticipated move, in the northeastern region of Catalonia, nightlife venues were set to open at the stroke of midnight (2300 GMT). In late December, the Catalan government put in place some of Spain’s most restrictive measures to fight Omicron, imposing a night curfew from 1:00 am, closing nightlife venues and halving the capacity in bars and restaurants.

The bar and restaurant restrictions were eased last month, but nightlife venues had remained closed, until Friday — with most set to open just after midnight.

Despite high vaccination rates, Covid cases exploded in Spain over the Christmas holidays, giving it one of Europe’s highest incidence rates, although that has now fallen. So far, Spain has registered some 10.5 million infections and more than 95,000 deaths.

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Spain eases Covid entry for unvaccinated tourists

Spain on Saturday eased Covid entry rules for unvaccinated tourists from outside the European Union, in a boost for the key tourism sector ahead of the peak summer holidays.

Spain eases Covid entry for unvaccinated tourists

Until now travellers from outside the bloc — including Spain’s main tourism market Britain — could only enter with proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19.

But as of Saturday visitors from outside of the EU will also be allowed to enter Spain with a negative Covid test result, the transport ministry said in a statement.

PCR tests must be carried out in the 72 hours prior to departure to Spain or an antigen test 24 hours prior to departure.

Tourism Minister Maria Reyes Maroto said the “new phase of the pandemic” meant the country was able to relax the rules by equating non-EU travellers with those of the bloc.

“This is excellent news, much awaited by the tourism sector, which will make it easier for tourists outside of Europe to visit us during the high season,” she added in the statement.

Children under the age of 12 are exempt from submitting any type of certificate.

With sunny beaches and a rich architectural heritage, Spain was the world’s second most visited country before the pandemic, with 83.5 million foreign visitors in 2019.

But international travel restrictions related to the pandemic brought Spain’s tourism sector to its knees in 2020 as it welcomed just 19 million tourists.

The figure rose to 31.1 million in 2021, far below the government forecast of 45 million arrivals.

READ ALSO: Spain lifts Covid-19 checks at French border