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COVID-19 RULES

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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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

READ ALSO:

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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