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COVID-19 RULES

Is Spain ready to get rid of masks indoors?

After 700 days, Spain has finally said goodbye to the vast majority of its indoor face mask rules, but is the country actually ready to do so?

Is Spain ready to get rid of masks indoors?
Spain says goodbye to face masks indoors today, but is it the right decision? Photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP

Spain has had one of Europe’s strictest mask-wearing policies, requiring people to wear them both outdoors and indoors for long periods of the pandemic, long after other countries had dropped them.

Since January 2022, the vast majority of Spain’s neighbouring countries have been lifting the obligation to wear masks indoors. Only Portugal, Slovakia, Malta, Italy and Greece have maintained the rule.

The changes to the country’s mask rules were first announced on April 6th and were fully approved by Spain’s Council of Ministers on Tuesday April 19th.

From today, Wednesday April 20th, face masks will only be mandatory in hospitals and other health-related establishments, care homes and on all forms of public transport.

READ ALSO: Where will you still need to wear a mask indoors in Spain?

But with many across the country still even wearing masks outdoors, is Spain ready to get rid of masks indoors?

Are people in Spain ready?

Health Minister Carolina Darias said that the dropping of the indoor mask rule was “socially demanded” and that “it was the right moment for logical reasons”.

It means easier communication, particularly in such a social country, as well as the ability to see each other’s faces and smiles again and helps to express ourselves with more than just words and hand movements.

And as the warm weather approaches, it means people won’t have trouble breathing through a mask in the summer heat, which was very common last year. 

The indoor mask-wearing rule has also been dropped in schools and has mostly been welcomed by experts in this situation, saying that mask-wearing has had significant effects on children’s social and verbal development.

According to the hospital group HM Hospitales, the use of masks has caused a 20 percent increase in consultations for children’s speech problems.

Mask rules have also seen an increase in síndrome de la cara vacía or mask-fishing among teens – a phobia or feeling of anxiety by exposing your face and taking off your mask.  

There is no official government poll yet asking Spaniards if they think the lifting of the indoor face mask rule has come too early or not, but leading Spanish newspapers such as El País and El Mundo have run their own polls with fairly even results between “yes” and “no”. Younger people appear more likely to be in favour of the mask mandate being scrapped and the older generations tend to be against the lifting of the indoor mask rules.

Have your say in our poll below: Will you still wear a mask indoors in Spain?

 

What the experts say

The Spanish government has made it clear that this decision has been made under the recommendations of experts. However, not all virologists and epidemiologists agree that dropping the indoor mask rule is a good idea.  

Opinions among Spanish health experts seem to be as divided as among the general population. While some say that we need to return to normality, others say that it’s too soon and that we need to see what effect the Easter holidays have had on the spread of Covid before making such a decision.  

The Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) said that dropping the rule “on a certain date cannot be a measure based on the evidence of the epidemiological situation” as it was done without knowing the evolution of the pandemic over Semana Santa.  

Virologist Sonia Zúñiga of Spain’s National Centre for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC) believes that it would be “wise” to wait before eliminating masks. “It could be sensible” to remove them “gradually”, starting with environments with lower risk, such as schools, since children have “a much lower risk of suffering from severe disease.  

Some experts recall that the pandemic is not over yet and they don’t rule out having to take steps backward if the situation worsens. However, Salvador Pero, an expert in public health argues that “the prospects are good, as many are vaccinated”. 

According to the latest stats, 86 percent of people in Spain have been fully vaccinated. 

What is the epidemiological situation in Spain right now? 

In the last 14 days, Spain has recorded 505.9 Covid cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

On Tuesday April 19th there were 5,635 patients hospitalised for Covid-19 in the country, 15 percent more than a week ago. In the ICU however, admissions continue to fall. According to the latest health report, 345 people are in intensive care, 23 fewer than seven days earlier.

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FACE MASKS

Spain’s Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Spain’s flagship airline Iberia has criticised the Spanish government’s ongoing mask requirement for passengers on planes bound to the country, stressing that it “doesn’t make any sense” and “it affects tourism”.

Spain's Iberia calls for government to scrap face mask rule on planes

Although the majority of Spain’s domestic and travel Covid-19 restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022, one of the only rules that still remains in place is the obligation of wearing a face mask on public transport. 

This includes aeroplanes, buses, trains, taxis and some ferries, but mask wearing isn’t compulsory at airports, ports or bus and train stations. 

For officials of Spain’s flagship airline Iberia, the time has come for this rule to be lifted.

“One of the airline industry’s main concerns is that mask wearing doesn’t make much sense,” Iberia’s Corporate Communications Director Juan Cierco said during a business talk organised by Spanish news agency Europa Press on Monday.

“We’re the only country along with China and one or two more that still has this rule.”

Cierco added, whilst putting on a mask to prove a point, that: “Here we are with seven ministers, none of them are wearing a mask, so getting on a plane now to or from Spain and being forced to wear a mask doesn’t make sense”.

The corporate director stressed that he wasn’t questioning the view of health experts but couldn’t understand why almost all other countries ditched the mask rule for public transport long ago.

“We should take off our masks because it’s affecting tourism and business now. Many international passengers tell us that they prefer to fly to other destinations or with other airlines, because 10 hours with the mask on board a plane, when it is no longer necessary or essential for health reasons, it just doesn’t make any sense”.

As things stand, the general rule is that cabin crew from all airlines have to tell passengers on planes bound to Spain that they have to masks. 

If on the other hand the aircraft is flying out of Spain, the mask rules of the country which the plane is flying to apply, which in almost all cases means face coverings aren’t required.

READ ALSO: Masks still compulsory on planes in Spain despite confusion

Spain’s Confederation of Bus Transport (Confebús), German company FlixBus and Madrid Municipal’s Transport Company (EMT) have also voiced their opposition to the lingering mask rule.

So, will Iberia’s views make a difference to the Spanish government’s stance regarding masks?

According to a report published in late October, the Spanish government’s health experts have agreed not to review face mask usage on public transport until March 2023.

The article, which cites internal sources from Spain’s government, adds that the country’s Public Health Commission (a body which advises Spain’s Health Ministry on which measures to introduce) has reportedly agreed to shelve any possible changes until March, and as things stand keep the rule in place “for an indefinite time” as “it is not the right time to remove masks due to the arrival of winter”.

Spain’s Health Ministry, however, argues that no fixed date for reviewing face mask legislation has been set.

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