Spanish Health Ministry to propose exemptions for mask-wearing while at beach

The government wants to revise the new rules so that face coverings do not need to be worn while bathing, playing sport or resting in a fixed spot if a safe distance can be maintained

A crowd of people wearing face masks in Sitges in Barcelona.
A crowd of people wearing face masks in Sitges in Barcelona.CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Spain’s central Health Ministry is to propose that face masks not be obligatory at all times while on the beach, provided that citizens are bathing, playing sport or resting in a fixed spot, and that a safe distance of 1.5 meters can be maintained from other people. While this suggestion – which will be conveyed to the country’s regional governments – does not specifically mention it, this would mean no face coverings while sunbathing.

The new proposal comes after national legislation was published in the Official State Bulletin (BOE) last week making masks obligatory even when people are alone in open spaces, something that was widely rejected by a number of regional governments. The new draft plan will be discussed this afternoon at a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS), which brings together the central Health Ministry and the regional healthcare chiefs in order to tackle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed revision means that people will have to wear masks while taking walks, including on the beach, but not while sunbathing

The new text, which comes after Health Minister Carolina Darias told the regions that a revision and update of the regulations would be forthcoming, would mean that people will have to wear masks while taking walks, including on the beach. But it also would exempt people from wearing the coverings when bathing in the sea, lakes, reservoirs, rivers or other natural aquatic spaces, as well as in swimming pools – whether indoors or outdoors.

The law that was published last Tuesday was the result of a decree that was first approved in June 2020, after the first wave of the pandemic, and covering what was dubbed the “new normality.” The legislation has since made its way through the Congress of Deputies, Spain’s lower house of parliament, as well as the Senate. It was in the latter chamber that the governing Socialist Party (PSOE) introduced an amendment making masks obligatory even when a safe distance can be kept from other people. The argument behind the change was that “with recent evidence of the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus via aerosols, the use of masks cannot be contingent on not being able to guarantee the distance of 1.5 meters.”

Sunbathers on Malagueta beach in Málaga on January 29.
Sunbathers on Malagueta beach in Málaga on January 29.Álex Zea (Europa Press)

The final text of the law stated that masks must be worn “in public, in outdoor spaces and in any enclosed space with public use or that is open to the public.” As soon as the law was published in the BOE, it was rejected by regional governments. The Balearic Islands, for example, said that it would interpret the law as not being applicable for those on beaches or in natural areas who are alone or with people they live with, but that it would for social meetings in those places, despite what the national legislation states.

The Andalusian regional government also rejected the use of masks while sunbathing on the beach or in swimming pools, and instead recommended the rules used last summer, whereby masks were needed while walking along the shoreline, but not while on the sand in groups of no more than six people.

The government also quickly admitted that the guidelines in the BOE may have been overtaken by today’s reality and improved knowledge about the coronavirus. “Face masks are mandatory, but we have to see whether the law leaves some room for maneuver,” said Health Minister Carolina Darias at a press conference last week.

The use of face masks in public spaces in Spain has been obligatory since May of last year, “in open-air spaces and any closed space that is for public use or that is open to the public, where it is not possible to maintain [an interpersonal] distance,” according to the BOE published at the time, when the authorities were beginning to deescalate the coronavirus measures that were in place during the initial lockdown.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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