Face masks will be compulsory in all public spaces in Catalonia starting on Thursday, and violators could face fines of €100.
The protective gear must be worn regardless of whether people are observing the social distance of 1.5 meters, or whether the area has a low coronavirus incidence.
The announcement was made on Wednesday by Catalan premier Quim Torra inside the regional parliament. “Face masks will be mandatory in Catalonia. Not just in Segrià, but in all of Catalonia,” he said, alluding to an area of Lleida province that has been locked down due to a large coronavirus outbreak.
It remains unclear how face mask rules will apply in situations like the beach or children’s summer camps
Until now, face masks had only been compulsory when it was not possible for people to stay 1.5 meters apart. Authorities said that although masks must now be worn at all times, a few exceptions will be made.
“The general rule is that everyone must leave their home with a face mask on, but exceptions are carried over from earlier resolutions, such as when one is exercising, although it is still necessary to wear one while leaving the house,” said the Catalan health chief, Alba Vergés, at a news conference.
It remains unclear how face mask rules will apply in situations like the beach or children’s summer camps, and Vergés did not provide details on the matter. “The general rule is that everyone will leave their house with their face mask on, whether they are going to the beach or to the office,” she said. “When the activity is not compatible with wearing a face mask, it may be removed, but safely.”
Failure to wear the protective face covering on the street or in closed spaces that are open to the public could lead to €100 fines, warned Vergés.
The Catalan government is hoping that this new move will help contain the outbreak in Lleida, where over 500 people have tested positive, and prevent future cases.
On Tuesday, the Catalan government’s spokesperson, Meritxell Budó, had said that making face masks mandatory would help everyone stay safe.
“It is a protection measure and a responsible measure. I am appealing to everyone’s sense of responsibility,” she said. “We are seeing some relaxed attitudes, which are not the rule, but by making it mandatory, we will ensure that those attitudes do not exist.”
Catalan authorities have reintroduced restriction of movement in an area of Lleida province that includes the provincial capital and which is home to over 200,000 people. On Tuesday, 74 new cases brought the total number of infections in the comarca of Segrià – a traditional administrative division that comprises 38 municipalities – to more than 500.
The hospital in Lleida city has been dealing with a surge in cases, and officials have warned that if the situation in Segrià does not improve in the coming days, they may reintroduce home confinement in the area, which people may now only enter or exit for work purposes.
Another Spanish comarca, this one in the northwestern region of Galicia, is also under partial lockdown due to a Covid-19 outbreak.
Other parts of Spain have been registering new coronavirus outbreaks since nationwide confinement measures were officially lifted on June 21. In the southern region of Andalusia, a funeral wake in Belicena, in Granada province, is at the center of an outbreak with six positive cases. Elsewhere in the region, another 14 outbreaks have been registered for a total of 254 cases.
Andalusian authorities are asking local officials to be very careful about preventing crowds from forming. Last weekend, 55 beaches had to be closed down due to overcrowded conditions. And in the Basque Country, health officials reported 14 new positive cases in an outbreak in Ordizia, in Gipuzkoa, province, for a total of 30 infections.
“There are a few outbreaks that are forcing us to take steps back,” said Spain’s finance minister and government spokesperson, María Jesús Montero, following the Tuesday Cabinet meeting that greenlighted an extension to housing aid for vulnerable families. “We urge people to follow the recommendations of the health authorities.”
Now that Spain has entered the “new normality” following a prolonged coronavirus lockdown and deescalation process, it is up to regional authorities – not the central government – to manage and control coronavirus outbreaks.
English version by Susana Urra.