Madrid leads push in Spain to treat Covid-19 like the flu

Madrid health authorities on Tuesday announced they want to stop systematic Covid-19 testing, ditch the indoor mask rule and scrap quarantine for asymptomatic patients in the capital, as Spain’s national government tentatively considers how to start treating the pandemic as an endemic virus.

Madrid leads push in Spain to treat Covid-19 like the flu
Madrid health head Enquire Rui Escudero believes the national government has to drop key Covid restrictions and move to the next stage of the pandemic. Photo: Populares de Madrid/Flickr

Back in mid-January, Spanish health authorities advanced that they wanted to start monitoring the pandemic in a similar way to seasonal flu.

What this would mean in practice is learning to live with Covid-19 and finding ways for it not to dominate many aspects of daily life. 

“Spain wants to lead this debate because it is timely and necessary to do so,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said at the time about her ministry’s plans to have Spain serve as an example to the rest of the world of what reclassifying Covid would mean. 

READ MORE: How Spain wants to lead global shift in Covid-19 surveillance

But more than a month on, not a lot has changed on a national scale, especially compared to other European countries that have scrapped all coronavirus restrictions. 

Masks are no longer required outdoors in Spain, there are fewer general Covid restrictions and the government is now reporting less frequently on infection and vaccination rates.  

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

But with Spain’s sixth coronavirus wave arguably now over, Madrid health authorities are pushing for more Covid rules to be dropped.

“We’re at a phase of a clear downward trend that requires modifying the current national strategy,” Madrid health director Enrique Ruiz Escudero said during a press conference on Tuesday.

“We must evolve as the coronavirus evolves.”

Madrid’s health department will therefore scrap general coronavirus testing in the region of 6.6 million people and will put forward to the national health ministry that asymptomatic and mild cases no longer have to self-isolate.

Instead they suggest that these positive cases should keep using a mask, reduce their social interactions, avoid contact with vulnerable people and keep good hand hygiene.

On the same note, Madrid health authorities believe it should no longer be necessary for people to have to notify their health centres that they’ve tested positive if their symptoms aren’t serious. 

Escudero and his department will also call for masks to no longer be required in indoor public settings apart from in care homes, hospitals and on public transport. 

Now is the time to “gradually” start getting rid of Covid restrictions, the Madrid health head considered, adding more suggestions such as getting rid of the 1.5 metre safety distance recommendation, allow drinks to be consumed at events and ease hospitals’ visiting policies.

Madrid therefore continues to be the region in Spain which favours the recovery of normal pre-Covid life, having kept bars, restaurants and other establishments open as other territories went into lockdown during the pandemic.

The lifting of the indoor mask rule would represent a major change in Spain’s policy and although Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has twice said this will happen “very soon”, Madrid’s regional government is the only one openly in favour of doing this at present. 

A key meeting between Spain’s Health Ministry and the regions on March 10th in Zaragoza will give more clarity as to whether Madrid can influence the national government’s stance regarding masks and quarantine rules for the asymptomatic. 

This process is being described as the gripalización (influenza-tion) of the pandemic, whereas others are calling for Spain’s general health system to be covidizado (‘covisized’), two newly coined terms which describe different ways to adapt to a post-pandemic world.

READ MORE: Spain’s health experts divided over whether Covid-19 should be treated like flu

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Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter ‘in matter of days’

Spain’s Tourism Minister on Thursday announced that “in a matter of days” unvaccinated third-country nationals such as Britons and Americans will be able to travel to Spain for a holiday with proof of a negative Covid-19 test. 

Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter 'in matter of days'

Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto on Thursday May 19th confirmed that it won’t be long before unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen nationals will be allowed to travel to Spain for non-essential reasons such as tourism, visiting friends or family or spending time in a second home in Spain. 

“It’s a matter of days before we eliminate a restriction that could be discouraging tourists from outside the European Union from visiting us,” Reyes told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

“And that is that we are going to stop requiring the vaccination certificate and allow them to enter with a negative test”. 

Maroto then stated that this would have to be a PDIA test, which in Spain refers to both PCR and antigen tests. If it’s a negative PCR or similar test (NAAT-type test) it must have been issued less than 72 hours prior to arrival in Spain, or if it’s a negative antigen test, less than 24 hours before arriving in Spain.

The surprise announcement comes just days after Spanish health authorities decided to extend the ban on non-essential travel for unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers until June 15th

Spain’s current Covid-19 travel restrictions only allow in third-country tourists such as Britons, Americans or Indians who have been fully vaccinated (including a booster shot if initial vaccination was more than nine months before travel) and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months. 

But for practically the entirety of the pandemic, unvaccinated non-EU tourists have been unable to travel to Spain, with only exceptional reasons for travel allowed. 

Reyes’ comments came about when asked by the Onda Cero interviewer when all of Spain’s Covid-19 travel restrictions will be lifted, as there are still other measures in places such as mask wearing on public transport (including planes) and proof of vaccination, testing or recovery.

“There’s a degree of safety with travel that we have to preserve. We’re still co-existing with the pandemic but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been gradually lifting restrictions,” Maroto argued.

The minister spoke of allowing unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers in soon as being another way of boosting the country’s recovering tourism industry, adding that her ministry was putting the finishing touches to the legislation, which will be approved in the coming days. 

A number of EU/Schengen countries have already lifted all their Covid-19 travel restrictions, including Greece and Austria most recently, as well as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Other countries such as France and Italy, Spain’s competitors in the tourism stakes, have also already allowed unvaccinated third-country tourists in with proof of a negative Covid-19 test for more than a month now.