New rules on the use of face masks in Spain will come into effect on Saturday, June 26. As of this date, the covering will not have to be worn outdoors if a distance of 1.5 meters can be observed. It will, however, be mandatory to carry a face mask at all times so that it can be put on in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.
These were some of the details shared on Wednesday by Health Minister Carolina Darias following a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System, which brings together central and regional health officials.
The criteria are based on a risk report to which EL PAÍS has had access. The document proposed repealing a March law that made it mandatory to wear a face mask, regardless of social distance, in both indoor and outdoor spaces. This rule was highly criticized by some regional governments as well as the Spanish tourism industry.
Darias confirmed on Wednesday that this law will be replaced by more flexible rules that maintain the need to wear a face mask indoors, on public transportation and in open-air situations, such as on crowded streets or large events, if a safe distance of 1.5 meters cannot be respected.
The report adds: “When people are outside their home, they must have a face mask for personal use on them at all times in case it is required or in anticipation of crowds or the need to wear it in indoor spaces or on public transportation.”
Until now, the mask-at-all-times rule made it more difficult to forget to wear one when walking into an indoor space. With the new, more relaxed rules, it will be important to remember to do so. People will also have to be alert to situations when social distancing cannot be maintained.
Under the new law, it will no longer be mandatory for residents of social service centers to wear a face mask if more than 80% of the institution is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 – a threshold that has been met by nearly every residence in Spain. This exemption does not apply to visitors or workers at social service residences.
The Spanish government will approve the new law at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on Thursday, “It is a homogenous criterion for the whole country. This is what’s important: a clear, simple message that can be understood by all citizens,” said Darias, following the meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System, which approved the new criteria.
Darias argued the decision to ease face mask rules was justified by the improved epidemiological situation in Spain and the progress of the Covid-19 vaccination drive. “If we look back, one of the elements that we have most associated with the pandemic is the mandatory use of face masks,” she said. “It’s a non-pharmaceutical measure that has been tremendously useful in controlling transmission. But the shift in the pandemic, with positive figures, is bringing us to the path towards the new normality.”
The move, however, has been met with some opposition. Speaking in an interview with Antena 3 on Thursday, the regional health chief of Andalusia, Jesús Aguirre, said: “There is no scientific evidence that a face mask in the pocket is effective [against the coronavirus].”
Experts have asked for the face mask rules to be periodically reviewed and changed according to the spread of the coronavirus, the progress of the vaccination drive, the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.
Fall in transmission rates stalls as vaccination breaks records
The coronavirus incidence rate in Spain rose on Wednesday for the first time since April 26, when the fourth wave reached its peak. According to the Health Ministry report, the 14-day number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants stands at 92.57, up fractionally from Tuesday’s figure of 92.25.
Meanwhile, the vaccination drive set a new record on Wednesday, with 680,540 doses administered in 24 hours. More than 50% of Spaniards have now received at least one dose and more than 15 million are fully vaccinated.
The government aimed to reach this goal last week, but fell short by around 500,000. Darias said on Wednesday that the government is confident it will reach the next two targets: to have 50% of the population fully vaccinated by July 19 and 70% by August 18.
English version by Melissa Kitson.