Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will hold a special Cabinet meeting on Thursday to bring back mandatory outdoor masking in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Several regional leaders had been requesting this measure and the central government has decided to give it fast-track approval through a decree before Christmas Eve.
The decision was made at a virtual meeting on Wednesday with the heads of Spain’s regions, which are in charge of their own coronavirus containment measures. At this gathering, which Sánchez presided from the Senate, the prime minister defended vaccination as the most efficient way to contain the sixth wave of the coronavirus, which is setting new daily case records in Spain.
The heads of Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, the Valencia region, Galicia and the Basque Country had made a return to outdoor masking one of their priorities. This is not the first time that Spain has introduced mandatory outdoor masking, a controversial tool that many health experts are skeptical about. An earlier mandate ended on June 26, although that official announcement specified that people should still use masks in crowded spaces or when unable to keep a distance of 1.5 meters between people.
At the meeting, Sánchez insisted on the need to “intensify” immunization through booster shots. The Spanish leader said that the measure is proving to be very efficient against the omicron variant and is reducing hospitalizations.
The executive will also reinforce regional contact tracing and vaccination teams with members of the armed forces. Military hospitals will also be available if required.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sánchez had stated in parliament that families will be able to get together for Christmas. A year ago some regions kept their borders sealed during the holiday season, preventing many people from gathering with loved ones.
Just ahead of the Christmas break, the incidence rate has shot up to 695 cases per 100,000 inhabitants according to figures released on Tuesday by the Health Ministry. The number of cases notified in one day reached a new record, 49,823. Until now, the peak had been January 21 with 44,357 notified cases (figures from the early days of the pandemic are unreliable due to insufficient testing).
Genomic sequencing has confirmed imported omicron cases from South Africa as well as cases associated with community transmission. Omicron cases have spiked in recent weeks and with very preliminary data from the regions, the last ministry report stated that 47% of samples sequenced during the week of December 6 to 12 are omicron.
With 91.8% of the over-12 population now vaccinated, health authorities have approved booster shots for the over-40 age groups and the vaccination of children between the ages of five and 11 is underway.