36,500 fines for not wearing face masks
Health Dpt processes almost 89,000 penalties and collects more than 2.5 million in the last year and a half
BarcelonaIt has been more than a week since the Department of Home Affairs started the procedure to pay back the fines given between March 14 and June 21, 2020, for covid restrictions violations. A total of 24,000 fines were paid, and they can now be claimed back after the Constitutional Court overturned the first lockdown. But beyond this, penalties for non-compliance with the anti-covid measures have continued and in this case the Health Department has already issued almost 195,000 fines since June 2020. The most common fine, which accounts for 41% of those that have been processed in the last year and a half, is for not wearing a mask. Twenty percent are for failure to comply with a local lockdown order and 14% for breaking a curfew.
Part of the penalties were imposed between October 25, 2020 and May 9, 2021, during the second state of alarm, which the Constitutional Court also declared unconstitutional. But in this case no refund of the money for the complaints has been announced, as was done with the first state of alarm. Professor of administrative law at the Universitat de Girona (UdG) Josep Maria Aguirre explains that the Constitutional Court "does not question the legality" of the restrictions during the second state of alarm, such as the curfew and restrictions on mobility or gatherings, but declared the six-month extension that from early November 2020 to early May 2021 unconstitutional.
The Court's position on the fines that were imposed during the half-year extension of the second state of alarm is not clear; according to Aguirre, it is "ambivalent". Even so, the professor recalls that during the first state of alarm the Constitutional Court ruled out the return of paid fines, but the administrations decided to return them nevertheless. That is why Aguirre sees "sufficient arguments" to claim back fines received during the six-month extension of the second state of alarm. On the other hand, he admits "the paradox" with the curfew, because he warns that it has been applied later on –in summer and now over Christmas– with the endorsement of Catalonia's High Court, yet it is covered by a procedure that so far has not been questioned.
Fines between €100 and €300
The information from the Department of Health does not differentiate which fines correspond to the extension of the second state of alarm and, therefore, those that could be claimed back. According to the Health Dpt, more than 16,000 sanctions have already been collected between June 22, 2020 and November 26, 2021 – a period that includes the second state of alarm – totalling over €2.5m. Failure to wear a mask carries a fine of €100 and a minor infringement is punishable by a minimum of €300. Apart from not wearing a mask, not complying with the local lockdowns or skipping the curfew, the other complaints that have been processed are 13% for repeat offenders, almost 5% for gatherings of over ten people and about 3% for street parties.
In the summer of 2020 the Catalan government effusively announced a ban on smoking in the street and bars' and restaurants' outdoor seating unless there was two meters' distance, but the reality is that little more than 1% of sanctions are for breaching minimum physical distance. "It is very difficult to prove because you could be smoking keeping a distance and then someone approaches you," Aguirre points out. As for the prohibition of consuming alcohol in the street, which was another of the measures that the Generalitat established the same summer to combat covid, Aguirre believes that several towns and city already had local bans and thinks that part of the complaints against street parties may have been processed by local councils instead of the Health Dpt.
But what are the most effective restrictions? Biocomsc researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) Clara Prats assures that "it is very difficult to know" because it depends on how they are put into practice: it is not the same to wear a cloth mask, a surgical mask or an FFP2, nor is it the same to wear it properly or under one's nose. Prats explains that "the human behaviour factor" influences anti-covid measures and complicates their assessment because, for example, last year, when the post-Christmas restrictions were announced, mobility dropped more before they came into force than when they were actually applied. Finally, Prats concludes that, once the pandemic has advanced, the actions have been directed "to the environments with a greater risk of contagion", which have focused on nightclubs because several elements of risk are present.