Sanchez relying on vaccine and masks despite controversy over recovered restriction

The only exceptions will be for doing sport or in natural spaces keeping a distance

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The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, at a press conference.

MadridThe Spanish government believes that the use of masks outdoors and the acceleration of vaccination should be enough to control the situation in the face of the escalation of infections due to the Omicron variant. This Thursday the Council of Ministers approved a royal decree amending the new normality law to recover the mandatory use of facemasks outdoors for people over 6. Both the government's spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, and the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, have insisted that the main weapon against the spread of the virus is vaccination, and have refused to position themselves in the debate on whether more restrictions are needed. In fact, Rodríguez remarked that "the government supports all regions' measures". This includes Madrid, which has almost none, to Catalonia, which will return tonight to a curfew.

The exceptions to the obligatory nature of the mask outdoors will be for people who are doing sports individually and those who are in natural areas where it is possible to maintain a safe distance of one and a half meters. This means that the mask will be compulsory in urban environments under any circumstances, but it will not be necessary in the countryside or on the beach as long as you are with your coexistence bubble or can maintain a distance of one and a half meters. Therefore, two people not living together walking on the beach will not have to wear a mask if they respect this distance between them.

Nevertheless, the measure does not convince a large part of the experts, nor Catalan health authorities. The secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, considers it insufficient. "The mask is an extra layer of protection, but mostly indoors. Outside it does little", she said in an interview on RAC1. The Biocomsc researcher Clara Prats says that the mask outdoors is not "very" effective in reducing the transmission of covid and defends that close contacts of cases should have to quarantine. "The circulation of the virus is huge. The probability of being in contact with it is very large," he said. The fine print of the decree will reveal whether it requires congressional validation – it has to be done in a maximum of 30 days – but it is not clear that the government has enough support: the measure has been criticised by PP, Vox, Cs, EH Bildu and Más País.

150 vaccination points run by the army

Despite this, the Spanish government is relying on the acceleration of vaccination and the generalisation of mask use. The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, has insisted that most regional presidents opted for the "recommendations" and not for restrictions. This, however, contrasts with the criticism that both the Catalan president Pere Aragonès and Basque president Iñigo Urkullu made over the softness of the measures. "Now we must focus on vaccination and the ambitious goals we have set ourselves," Darias responded. The minister stressed that 150 mobile vaccination points will be made available to regional government by the army, as well as two military hospitals in Madrid and Zaragoza.

In response to criticism about the lack of funds to deal with the pandemic, the minister spokesperson also stressed that the Spanish government has a €7bn fund for regional governments, which she considers to be sufficient. However, she is open to expanding it later if necessary. In fact, a new telematic conference of presidents to monitor the pandemic is planned for early January.