Thursday 7th April 2022 – Mike Smith
Source: numerous sources
After more than two years, the wearing of face masks indoors will no longer be mandatory in Spain after the Easter period, according the the Spanish Health Minister, Carolina Darias, who made the announcement at the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System on Wednesday. There are exceptions – on public transport and in health centres, for example, they will still need to be worn – but from Wednesday 20th April, subject to final approval, it will no longer need to be mandatory to wear a face mask to enter a bar or restaurant or to go shopping.
The Spanish Cabinet is expected to approve the modification of the current rules of wearing face masks in public spaces which, once approved, will come into force on Wednesday 20th April when it will be published on the Official State Gazette (BOE).
The modification is set to lift the requirements to wear a face mask in interior spaces such as hospitality sector venues and shops, but it will remain mandatory on public transport, in health centres and hospitals (except for those people who have been admitted, provided they are alone in their rooms without visitors), and for staff and visitors to residences / senior citizen homes. Businesses will be free to decide for themselves if their staff need to wear a face mask as part of their occupation risk prevention assessment.
With regards to schools, students will also not be obliged to wear a mask after that date and experts from the Health Ministry and the health authorities from the autonomous regions have already requested that the requirement be lifted since a recent study in Catalonia showed that there were no great differences in the transmission of the disease in classrooms of children under the age of 6 – where masks are not mandatory – and classrooms of older children.
The Spanish Government will still recommend the “responsible use of the mask”, especially for vulnerable groups such as the over-60s, pregnant women, and immunosuppressed patients if a minimum distance of 1.5 metre can’t be maintained. Indeed, the Spanish Epidemiology Society (SEE) has issued advice that a face mask always be worn by these groups as well as reminding that certain other measures should still be maintained, such as ventilation and avoiding crowding in enclosed spaces.
This spring, countries across the European Union have been lifting the obligation to wear a face mask indoors (with similar exceptions such as on public transport and in health centres). Of the larger member states, only Spain, Italy and Portugal maintain that specific obligation. And in the United Kingdom, restrictions have been totally lifted. But Spain is not ready to follow their example and insists on taking “progressive steps” to lift those restrictions that remain in place in the country.
However, the decision has not met with universal approval from public health experts. Whilst some believe that the time is right to lift the obligation, others consider that the situation is not yet stable enough to do so and sends the wrong message. Indeed, the SEE has said that “the use of the mask indoors is a very iconic measure, and very visible, and its removal sends the message that there is no longer a need for any [precautionary] measures”, warning that the focus should remain on protecting the vulnerable groups and consequently some measures must remain in place.