Spain eyes closing bars and nightclubs early as Covid cases rise 

Bar staff clear up chairs and tables at a bar terrace in downtown Burgos, in Castilla and Leon region.
Bar staff clear up chairs and tables at a bar terrace in downtown Burgos, in Castilla and Leon region. A limit on opening hours could return to Spain ahead of the Christmas period. Photo: César Manso/AFP
Spain’s Health Ministry has drafted a plan which proposes that bars and restaurants close at 11pm and nightclubs at 1am in areas where Covid cases are spiking over Christmas, as the nationwide infection rate continues to gather pace.

With Christmas just a month away, Spain is slowly but surely seeing its fortnightly infection rate increase by a larger amount every day, standing at 133 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday November 23rd, triple the rate it was a month ago.

The incidence of the virus is currently highest in Navarre – 376 cases per 100,000 people – but Covid hospitalisations are also starting to rise in regions such as Catalonia, where the Covid hospital occupancy rate has shot up by 61 percent in two weeks. 

The figures are still nowhere near as bad as previous stages of the pandemic, but the prospect of Spain completely avoiding Europe’s latest Covid wave is quickly fading away and health authorities will most likely tighten restrictions ahead of Christmas.

How exactly is the matter at hand.

Spain’s Ministry of Health on Monday proposed that regional authorities focus their attention on limiting opening hours for bars and clubs in places where infections and hospitalisations are up. 

The newest draft version of the nationwide Covid traffic light system suggests that in municipalities where the infection rate is at risk level 2 – 100 to 300 infections per 100,000 people –  bars and restaurants should shut at 11pm and nightlife venues at 1am. 

This would currently encompass half of Spain’s autonomous communities. 

The amended traffic light system, which serves as a guide for regional governments to impose local restrictions, also proposes there should be a return to a limit on the number of people per table (ten), 1.5 metres safety distance between tables, a 50 percent capacity limit and no eating or drinking at the bar. 

These are all measures that Spain has previously had. 

A week ago, Spain’s regional authorities rejected an earlier draft of the traffic light system which raised the threshold for what constitutes low and high risk infection rates.

READ MORE: Spain fails to convince its regions to change Covid risk traffic light system

For many regional leaders in Spain, the main focus now is on getting the Covid health pass green-lighted to limit access to hospitality venues for the 4 million unvaccinated people left in the country. 

In essence, they don’t want their vaccinated citizens to have to endure Covid restrictions once more when they’ve done their part. 

READ MORE: Spain’s regions eye Covid health pass to keep sixth wave at bay

But just as the Covid health pass was rejected by a number of regional judges last summer, it seems unlikely once again that it will get the approval it needs to come into force. 

The country’s Health Ministry has ruled out a nationwide Covid health passport and on Monday the Basque Country High Court rejected once again its use under the premise that it breaches fundamental rights. 

So Spain finds itself at a crossroads in terms of what Covid-19 restrictions it should bring in as a less deadly but still highly transmissible wave of Covid-19 sweeps through its largely vaccinated population. 

A return to the old Covid measures seen throughout the pandemic or a new tactic ahead of the festive period?

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