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FACE MASKS

Spain’s Asturias and Cantabria regions call for return of masks indoors

Authorities in the two northern regions are asking residents to keep their masks on in indoor public settings only days after the national government scrapped the face covering requirement after two years in place. 

Spain's Asturias and Cantabria regions call for return of masks indoors
Not all regional governments are convinced that the indoor mask rule should have been lifted yet. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

On Wednesday April 20th, Pedro Sánchez’s government officially lifted the requirement of wearing a mask in most indoor public spaces in Spain, a symbolic moment for the country as it was the last major Covid-19 restriction in force. 

After 700 days in place, the end of most mandatory mask wearing hasn’t convinced everyone, and opposition to the end of the measure is particularly high in Asturias and Cantabria, two neighbouring regions along Spain’s northern coast.

READ ALSO:  Your answers – Will you continue wearing a mask indoors in Spain?

Authorities in both territories want to return to compulsory mask wearing in indoor spaces and are encouraging under-60s to get tested for Covid-19.

In the Principality of Asturias, this cautious reasoning is explained by the fact that Covid-19 hospitalisations have been putting more pressure on the health system over the past weeks, and the fortnightly infection rate in over-60s is in the high-risk category (977 cases per 100,000).

According to the Asturian government, one in three people in the region is over 60 and during previous Covid waves the health system has been overburdened with patients in this age group.

Aside from their insistence on keeping masks on indoors (except for in schools), Asturian authorities are looking for ways to maintain quarantine for positive cases – even though the national Health Ministry has scrapped this for asymptomatic and mild cases – as well as requesting a second booster dose for people over 80 and those in care homes, which Madrid is likely to offer

Cantabrian president Miguel Ángel Revilla has also asked his citizens to wear a mask where “there are people” as “the virus is still there”. 

Cantabria’s fortnightly infection rate for people over 60 is also high at present (826 cases per 100,000 people) and local health authorities are working on implementing an early detection system to combat another possible coronavirus wave, while acknowledging that so far there has been no obvious spike in infections after the Easter holidays.

The two regional governments have been among the strictest in terms of Covid-19 restrictions throughout the pandemic and their current stance clashes with that of Pedro Sánchez’s administration, which is adamant on Spain entering a new stage of the pandemic where Covid-19 is treated like the flu and the focus is primarily on protecting the most vulnerable.

From a legal standpoint, Cantabria and Asturias’ calls for a return to full indoor mask wearing can only be recommendations for their populations, as mask legislation can solely be implemented on a national government level.

But their wariness for the end of mask wearing is shared by many health experts who see it more as a political decision than one based on scientific fact.

Just as Spain dropped its indoor mask-wearing rules on April 20th, Spanish health authorities warned that a new highly contagious but largely unstudied Covid variant has been detected in the country.

The national Health Ministry hasn’t ruled out toughening mask rules if the Covid situation were to worse in Spain, but for the near future it seems unlikely Madrid will backtrack on its latest decision. 

The ministry headed by Carolina Darias does recommend that those over 60, immunosuppressed people, pregnant women and people in their company continue with the “responsible use” of face masks indoors.

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COVID-19 RULES

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

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