Galicia, Canary Islands ban smoking in public areas as Covid-19 cases continue to rise

The Health Ministry has reported a total of 3,172 new coronavirus infections across Spain, of which 1,690 were detected in the last 24 hours

A woman smokes at an outdoor cafe in Madrid.
A woman smokes at an outdoor cafe in Madrid.VICTOR SAINZ

From today onward, Galicia has banned smoking in the street or in public spaces such as sidewalk cafes if a two-meter social distance cannot be respected. The northwestern Spanish region is the first to take such a step, although several more of the country’s regional governments have been studying a similar restriction, aimed at avoiding the spread of the coronavirus. Among them are Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León. On Thursday, it emerged that Valencia, Cantabria, Asturias, Navarre and Madrid are also considering the measure, while the Canary Islands became the second region to confirm such a restriction, which will come into force on Friday.

Experts such as the Spanish Society for Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery (Separ) recommend the measure in order to combat contagion of SARS-CoV-2. Galicia on Wednesday registered 827 active cases, an increase of 87 on the day before, according to data supplied by the regional health department.

In the Canary Islands, the restrictions on smoking were approved after 28 outbreaks were detected, all of them in either a family or leisure environment. A total of 268 people have tested positive for the coronavirus via PCR tests, while 745 people have been in close contact with these confirmed cases. As well as the smoking ban, the Canary Islands today have also become the final of Spain’s regions to impose obligatory face masks in public places, and have limited family gatherings to a maximum of 10 people, while nightlife venues will only be able to open outdoor areas, for consumption sat at tables, Pedro Murillo reports.

We know that this is an unpopular measure for smokers
Alberto Fernández Villar, head of pneumology at Vigo hospital

The acting Galician regional premier, Alberto Núñez Feijóo of the conservative Popular Party (PP), announced the new restrictions at a press conference after meeting with the scientists that are advising him. “A number of members of the clinical committee agree that smoking with no limits, whether on a sidewalk café, with people close by, or in areas with a large number of citizens and without any physical safe distance, is a high risk of contamination, of infection.”

The text published in the Galician Official Gazette (DOG) that sets out the restrictions says that “the consumption of tobacco or electronic cigarettes in public spaces and open-air areas, including sidewalk cafés, can exclude the obligatory use of face masks, exclusively during the aforementioned consumption, provided that, taking into account the possible presence of people and the dimensions of the place in question, a distance of two meters with other people can be guaranteed at all times.”

The measures is in line with a document produced in July by the Public Health Commission for the National Health System, which warned that smoking or vaping increase the risk of coronavirus infection. When exhaling smoke, the smoker projects droplets, as well as the habit requiring the manipulation of face masks and bringing the fingers to the mouth after touching the cigarette. Also dangerous is the smoking of hookah pipes, which have become regular features in Spanish bars and nightclubs.

“We know that this is an unpopular measure for smokers,” said Alberto Fernández Villar, the head of pneumology at Vigo hospital in Galicia and a member of the clinical committee that has been advising Feijóo. “They will have to move several meters to separate themselves from their companions. And in the world of hostelry it may not be viewed well, because there might be people who will not go to a sidewalk café if they can’t smoke comfortably. But I believe that we are in an exceptional context, with a disease which we don’t know how it will behave in the fall and winter, and any reasonable measure, which has been argued and that protects public health should be applauded.”

National figures

The central Health Ministry on Wednesday night released the latest figures covering the coronavirus crisis, announcing that 3,172 new cases had been reported by the country’s regions. Of those, 1,690 had been diagnosed in the last 24 hours. The data, however, was incomplete for yet another day, after Madrid was not able to update its figures due to “technical problems.”

The Madrid region did, however, release its data itself, reporting that new infections had doubled in the last 24 hours to 654, a rise of 330 on the Tuesday figure. This is the highest number so far for the month of August.

Aragón (306), the Basque Country (268), Andalusia (202) and Catalonia (200) reported the highest numbers of new cases in the last 24 hours, while the number of hospitalizations continues to rise. According to Wednesday’s report, a total of 864 people have been admitted for treatment with Covid-19 in the last seven days. A total of 49 people have been transferred to an intensive care unit in the last week, up from 45 on Tuesday. According to the Health Ministry’s latest figures, there have been 65 coronavirus-related deaths in the last seven days. The official death toll since the crisis began in Spain stands at 28,579 according to the ministry.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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