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FACE MASKS

How likely is it that Spain will make face masks mandatory indoors again?

Face masks ceased to be obligatory indoors in Spain in late April 2022, but could the recent rise in Covid-19 cases force the Spanish government to reconsider whether the rule should be brought back?

Covid face masks in Spain
Will face indoor face mask rules return in Spain? Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

Just a little over two months since the indoor mask rule was dropped, Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias has 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.

READ ALSO: Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

With Spain currently in the midst of an eighth Covid wave, face masks are currently only mandatory on public transport, in pharmacies, health centres and care homes, but could the Spanish government make them obligatory in all indoor public spaces once again?

For over two years, the use of face masks was required in indoor public spaces in Spain and for some of that time, they were required outdoors too.

Masks became an integral part of life in Spain, from serving to make political statements to becoming a fashion accessory. They changed the way Spaniards greeted each other and even caused psychological problems among young people who became scared of showing their faces in public.

For the past few months, aided by the government’s policy of treating Covid-19 like an endemic disease similar to the flu, and their decision to lift quarantine for mild and asymptomatic cases and ceasing to count all cases, many people have ended up assuming that the pandemic was over.

This was further fuelled by the return of mass events such as festivals and concerts. In Barcelona, the Primavera Sound music festival returned for the first time since the start of the pandemic but was marred by several high-profile bands having to cancel because of Covid-19 infections. Threads on social media also suggest that many festival-goers caught Covid-19 while at the event.

Spain is currently experiencing what the Spanish media have dubbed a new “silent Covid wave” as there are hardly any restrictions and no official figures on the true number of people who have become infected recently.

According to the latest data from Spain’s Ministry of Health, Covid-19 hospitalisations have increased by 21 percent in the last seven days (that’s among people aged 60 or older and serious cases) and the number in the ICU has shot up by 16 percent.

On Wednesday July 7th, ministry data showed that 11,586 were in hospital with Covid-19 in Spain and 502 were in the ICU.

What each region’s health authorities think about the return of face masks

As usual, each of Spain’s 17 regions has slightly differing opinions on the use of face masks, but the general consensus is that most of them are recommending wearing masks indoors once again, particularly for the vulnerable and the elderly. 

Madrid

Madrid’s Vice President Enrique Ossorio 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.

Catalonia

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 just three weeks.  

Valencia

The government of Valencia has issued an alert after Covid cases in the region more than doubled in the week leading up to July 4th and has also asked for the return of masks in indoor settings.

The president of the Valencia College of Nursing Laura Almudéver also recommended on Monday July 4th that people should return to wearing masks in indoor spaces, where a distance from others couldn’t be maintained.

Canary Islands

The head of the Immunology Department of the Canary Island government Amós García Rojas on July 3rd explained that due to the rise in cases on the islands, it would be “necessary to maintain certain restrictions”. 

However, he did not rule out the need to “take measures” again, to protect the elderly and the vulnerable. “Perhaps the obligation to wear a mask indoors may be reintroduced if the situation does not improve,” he continued.  

Andalusia  

The Andalusian government has not commented on the general use of masks indoors but has insisted that they will not become mandatory again in schools and has also stated that they will continue to be required on public transport.

Balearic Islands  

The Health Minister of the Balearic Islands´ government Patricia Gómez Picard has said that it’s “advisable” for the vulnerable to wear masks in indoor public spaces but has ruled out mandatory measures.

Will face masks become mandatory again in Spain?

As face mask rules fall under national legislation and not regional, it’s up to Spain’s national government to decide and not the individual regions. 

As the situation stands, the national Health Ministry has ruled out making masks compulsory again.

“We’re calling for caution as we always do when there is a considerable increase in the infection rate,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told journalists in early July.

“But when it comes to face masks, it’s a recommendation, because we’ve got an extremely high vaccination rate with 95 million doses having been administered”.

So it seems highly unlikely that masks will become compulsory again in all outdoor or indoor settings in Spain in the near future, despite rising infections.

It could well be that the indoor places where it’s still mandatory to wear a mask – public transport, health centres and care homes – continue to have this rule throughout the summer, perhaps even longer.

But a return to the across-the-board rule won’t happen unless any new Covid-19 subvariants have different and severe symptoms that escape the effectiveness of current vaccines.

The new Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5 are more transmissible and research shows they can evade vaccination immunity, but their symptoms are milder than previous variants.

Remember as well that the fact that masks are not mandatory in almost all situations currently in Spain does not mean you shouldn’t wear one in certain situations where you think you could be more at risk of catching the virus.

Spanish virologists and health experts such as Quique Bassat, José Manuel Bautista, María del Mar Tomás or José de las Morenas all believe that in the current context of increased prevalence of Covid-19, it’s common sense to take extra precautions in crowded or poorly ventilated indoor areas.

You don’t have to of course, nobody is forcing you to anymore in almost all daily situations, but it’s up to you if you’d rather wear a mask for a few minutes or feel unwell for several days, as well as potentially infect your loved ones who are vulnerable.

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COVID-19 RULES

What are Spain’s current rules for asymptomatic and mild Covid cases?

Spain is currently experiencing an eighth Covid wave. For those who test positive during the summer of 2022, here's a reminder of all the rules and recommendations you need to be aware of, concerning asymptomatic, mild and serious cases.

What are Spain's current rules for asymptomatic and mild Covid cases?

No one wants to get Covid, particularly when the summer season is approaching and many have booked their annual holidays.

But if you do find that you test positive for Covid-19, here’s what you need to know about Spain’s current health rules. 

Whatever questions you have, from wanting to know if you still need to get an official test or inform your doctor, to whether you can go outside and if you need to wear a face mask, we’ve got you covered. 

Q: What if I get Covid but don’t have any symptoms?

A: If you are asymptomatic, in other words you test positive for Covid-19 but don’t experience any symptoms, then it’s not necessary to self-isolate and you are not required to quarantine at home.

Spain’s quarantine requirement for asymptomatic cases was dropped as of March 28th 2022.

However, the health body that advises Spain’s Health Ministry recommends that you still stay at home and rest and that if you do go out, you wear a mask indoors and outdoors, and that you keep social contact to a minimum for a week. 

Q: What if I have mild Covid symptoms?

A: If you have mild Covid symptoms, you fall into the same category as those who have no symptoms for Spanish health authorities.

This means that while it’s not mandatory to isolate at home, you should still rest, wear a mask indoors and outdoors and avoid social contact.

The obligatory quarantine for mild cases was also scrapped as of March 28th, 2022.

Q: What if I have severe Covid symptoms?

A: If you have serious Covid symptoms, Spain’s Health Ministry continues to require a quarantine period of seven days, meaning that it’s mandatory.

It is also still required for those classified as part of the high-risk or vulnerable population, which includes those aged 60 or older, immunosuppressed people and pregnant women. 

Q: Am I allowed to go outside if I have Covid?

A: Yes, as mentioned above, if you have mild or asymptomatic symptoms you are allowed to go outside while you have Covid. However, you should limit your contact with others for a week to make sure you’re not putting others at risk. You should aim to stay at home as much as possible until your symptoms disappear.

Keep in mind that you are highly contagious in the first few days of the illness, so you may want to avoid going out during that time.

Q: Can I go to events if I have Covid-19?

A: Yes, you can leave the house if you have Covid-19, but as you’re expected to limit your contact with others, going to a large event with hundreds of people is not recommended. You could unknowingly be putting vulnerable people at risk. Health authorities still recommend that you avoid gatherings for at least a week after a positive test. 

Q: Do I need to wear a mask if I test positive?

A: The Spanish Health Ministry has confirmed that those who have Covid must wear a mask for “ten days from the diagnosis” of the virus.

They should be worn indoors, as well as outdoors, if a distance can’t be maintained from others. Experts recommend using the FFP2 masks during this time because even if your symptoms are mild, you can still be contagious.

READ ALSO: How likely is it that Spain will make face masks mandatory indoors again?

Q: Can I go to work if I have Covid-19?

A: If you have mild or asymptomatic Covid-19, although the recommendation is to work from home or take sick leave, you can still go in.

However, the health authorities recommend that you wear a mask, avoid contact with vulnerable people and avoid enclosed spaces with little ventilation.

Q: Is it necessary to get officially tested?

A: No, it’s not necessary to get a PCR or antigen done at your local health centre or at a private clinic any more. An antigen test bought from a pharmacy and performed at home will suffice.

Only those with serious symptoms and high-risk groups should get tested now. Although you it’s not necessary anymore to confirm your infection with a test, it’s still useful to test yourself at home so you can avoid contact with others if it’s positive and know when you can get back to life as normal.

Q: Do I have to tell my doctor if I have or have recently had Covid?

A: No, it’s not necessary for everyone to call their doctor if they have Covid, because not all cases are being counted by authorities anymore.

You may, however, still need to call your doctor if you need to sick leave from work. Those in Catalonia will be given an automatic five-day sick leave if they have Covid symptoms, even if they don’t take a test.  

If you are over the age of 60, are immunosuppressed or are in a high risk group, it’s still a good idea to tell your doctor if you test positive.

Q: What do I do if I have come into close contact with someone who has Covid-19?

A: If you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid, it’s not necessary for you to take a test or to self-isolate.

The health authorities do recommend that you take precautions though, such as limiting social interactions, wearing a mask and avoid vulnerable people.

Remember that the days before you test positive, but after you have been exposed to the virus are when you are the most contagious. 

Q: What if I get Covid while on holiday in Spain?

A: If you have a mild or asymptomatic case of Covid-19 while on holiday in Spain, you don’t have to quarantine and you don’t have to inform the local health authorities, unless you are in a vulnerable category.

Like above, Spain’s Health Ministry only recommends that you stay at home and rest, that if you do have to go out you wear a mask indoors and outdoors, and that you keep social contact to a minimum for a week.

Different countries have different rules so you may not be able to travel home if you have Covid and may have to wait until you test negative.

READ MORE: What tourists should do if they get Covid while on holiday in Spain? 

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