Compulsory use of masks outdoors back

Spanish president mobilises armed forces to accelerate vaccination process

2 min
The Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, in Congress.

MadridSpanish government president Pedro Sánchez has informed regional presidents the obligatory use of masks outdoors is being brought back and that he is mobilising the armed forces to speed up the vaccination process. Sánchez has detailed a plan that aims to have 80% of the population over 60 boosted by the end of the year. To achieve this, army health personnel will be mobilised and military hospitals will be made available for vaccination.

The mask mandate can only be imposed by the Spanish government and it had been requested by different regional governments due to the escalation in cases caused by the Omicron variant. Catalonia is not among them but is not opposed to the measure, which would be added to those that have already been decided and are pending judicial validation, such as the curfew between 1 am and 6 am.

The second leg of Sánchez's announcement is a plan to increase resources for the health system: retired staff will be hired to increase resources and the procedure for hiring health professionals from outside the EU will be facilitated. In addition, Sánchez explained that the working conditions of health workers will be improved by reducing the temporary employment rate to below 8%. A total of €229m will be allocated to finance this plan and will be transferred almost entirely to regional governments.

Other measures announced are the issuance of temporary authorizations to allow the sale of certain antigen tests for professional use in pharmacies so that they are available to the entire population. As previously announced, vaccinated close contacts will no longer be forced to quarantine, although it is recommended that social contacts be reduced as much as possible. It is also specified that, as approved by the European Commission, vaccination will be considered valid for the nine months following the last dose.

According to the plan presented by Sánchez, in addition to boosting 80% of the population over 60 before the end of the year, the aim is to boost 80% of those aged 50 to 59 by the week of 24 January, 80% of those aged 40 to 49 by the first week of March, 70% of children vaccinated with the first dose by 7 February and 70% of children fully vaccinated by the week of 19 April.

Extraordinary Council of Ministers

To approve all these measures, an extraordinary Council of Ministers will be held on Thursday. In addition, Sánchez has pledged to hold regular meetings of the conference of presidents for the duration of this sixth wave.

The decision to reinforce health personnel contrasts with the decision of some regional governments, such as Andalusia or Madrid, to reduce health personnel when it was thought that the pandemic was under control. According to data from the Ministry of Health, the cumulative incidence in the whole state is 695, a very alarming figure that has soared in a very short period of time. But in addition, there are many differences by region. Navarre has the highest incidence, with 1,488 cases per 100,000, while Castilla la Mancha only has 340. The Madrid region, which doesn ot even require a covid pass to enter bars, registers 809, while Catalonia is a little below the average, with 662 (according to the Generalitat, which has more updated data, this figure is already 810).