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FACE MASKS

When and where will face masks still be mandatory in Spain?

Masks are no longer be required on public transport in Spain from Wednesday February 8th, but when and where will they still be obligatory?

When and where will face masks still be mandatory in Spain?
When and where will masks still be required in Spain. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias confirmed end the end of January that face masks would no longer be compulsory on public transport, a measure that has been in place in Spain for almost three years.  

On Tuesday February 7th, the Spanish government finally approved the measure and it was published in the Official State Bulletin (BOE) on Wednesday February 8th, meaning that masks will no longer be required on public transport.

The measure is possible because Spain’s Covid-19 “epidemiological situation
is enormously stable at the moment,” Darias told a news conference after a weekly
cabinet meeting.

Spain has ceased to be the only country in Europe that still requires the use of face masks on public transport. 

The measure comes months after other European countries took the same decision, which has been delayed due to the threat of the Covid-19 situation in China and fear of new variants such as ‘kraken’ from the US.

Where else masks will masks not be mandatory any more?

Darias elaborated further, confirming that as well as on public transport, masks will not be required in health establishments such as opticians, auditory and orthopaedic centres, where they had been up until now.  

Will they still be required anywhere?

Yes, the government has stated that face masks will still be mandatory in all other health centres, pharmacies and hospitals, as well as in care homes.

You will also need to continue wearing them in dentist offices, physiotherapy centres, blood banks, family planning or fertility clinics and psychology or psychiatric offices. 

READ ALSO: Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

What about on aeroplanes?

Aeroplanes will be counted as public transport and therefore, you will no longer need to wear a mask when flying to or from Spain. 

This will bring Spain in line with many other European countries who dropped the mask rule on planes months ago, which airlines have been asking for, for a while. 

The corporate director of Iberia Juan Cierco has been very critical of the mandatory masks on flights rule. 

The use of masks outdoors ceased to be mandatory almost a year ago, on February 10th, 2022.

Then, two months later on April 20th, the government announced they wouldn’t be required indoors either, except in health centres and on public transport. 

The latest figures for Covid-19 in Spain, published on Friday February 3rd, showed that the number of people hospitalised has fallen by 12.1 percent over the last week and by 15.2 percent in the ICU.

The current average incidence of infections in Spain over the last 14 days stood at 50.76 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Covid-19 controls at airports in Spain

Last week, Darias also announced the results of the controls carried out by the Foreign Health Department on travellers coming on direct flights from China.

Controls have been carried out on a total of 1,765 travellers and three people have tested positive for Covid-19, she confirmed.

The three positives were confirmed by PCR and the virus was sequenced, showing that it was the same strain that is currently already dominant in Spain. 

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FACE MASKS

When will Spain scrap face masks in hospitals and pharmacies?

Despite other Covid-19 restrictions being lifted long ago, it is still mandatory to wear a face mask in Spanish hospitals, pharmacies and other health centres. So is this rule set to change anytime soon? Many health experts think it should.

When will Spain scrap face masks in hospitals and pharmacies?

Spanish society has taken mask wearing quite seriously during the Covid-19 pandemic, but face coverings haven’t been compulsory in most indoor public settings since April 20th 2022.

Mandatory mask wearing on public transport, at opticians and in hearing centers also ended in February 2023.

However, wearing a mask is still necessary in medical settings – specifically in hospitals, other health-related centres and pharmacies.

This is the last Covid measure still in place in Spain more than three yars since the pandemic began.

Admittedly, while mask wearing in hospital settings is still strictly enforced, in many pharmacies around Spain this rule has become a little more lax.

But how much longer will this Covid rule continue?

READ ALSO: Spain announces end of public transport face mask rule

Ministry of Health

The government are remaining tightlipped. Spain’s Ministry of Health, when asked by El Mundo newspaper how long masks will be mandatory in medical settings, gave a vague non-comital response: “In Spain, the position is that we should try to use masks in healthcare centres and services as a general rule, regardless of whether there is Covid or not, and from there exceptions can be made or particular situations can be assessed.”

It’s hardly a definitive answer. According to the official government BOE that eliminated masks on public transport (as well as opticians) in February, which you can find here, the justification for keeping them in medical settings was: “The mandatory use of masks is maintained in healthcare centres and services, and pharmacies, since these are areas where there may be a greater concentration of vulnerable people and where the risk of serious illness is greater and, what is more, where the probability of transmission is higher, since they are places where there may be a greater number of people with transmissible respiratory infections, in addition to the COVID-19.”

Expert opinion

Many medical experts are now calling for the lifting of this last pandemic measure and a return to pre-pandemic normality.

The Spanish Society of Immunology certainly believes so. “We have been wearing masks when there has been a lot of circulation of viruses, and now that it has stopped circulating, I think the removal of the masks could be considered,” Marcos López Hoyos, the society’s president, said in an interview with Spanish news outlet Antena3.

Hoyos pointed to the fact that society now has vaccine immunity and medicines that we did not have at the beginning of the pandemic. That said, he also insisted that we must “be aware that at a given moment you can go back, at a time of an important resurgence.”

The Spanish Society of Immunology now believes that Covid-19 should be managed like any other respiratory virus “because the health situation is no longer so emergency,” and recommends that mask use goes back to the pre-pandemic norm, that is, wearing them only in very specific situations.

Experts believe mask wearing should still be mandatory in ICUs and during surgery, but not in all hospital settings necessarily, Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP
 

“Everyone puts on a mask when they enter an ICU, or when they enter a premature unit, or when they are in an operating room, or in a surgical area,” virologist Raúl Ortiz de Lejarazu explained. 

“Masks have played an important role when the incidence of the virus was very high; but when it is very low, the use of masks has practically no importance because it is something that is not worn continuously and throughout the day we will have the opportunity, at home or elsewhere, to get infected,” he added.

The experts are not in complete consensus, however, and some suggest caution and waiting for direction from global bodies before removing medical mask mandates. Amós García, an epidemiologist and member of the Permanent Group for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO), told Antena3 that “it would be appropriate to be cautious and wait for the WHO to rule on the matter.”

Óscar Zurriaga, president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE), has defended maintaining the mask measures on the grounds of protecting vulnerable patients: “Regardless of Covid, the maintenance of masks is an additional measure against this virus and other respiratory viruses, which means that for vulnerable people this measure can be favourable, especially considering that it is an area in which people with all kinds of vulnerability go and in which different pathogens flourish,” he told El Mundo.

Mask order

Despite many experts calling for the end of mask use in hospitals and pharmacies, the vague statements of the Health Ministry, and the lifting off mask mandates in other settings if Spain’s Ministry of Finance is anything to go by, we might be wearing masks for a while longer.

The Ministry recently spent around €50,000 to buy 2 million surgical masks for its staff, despite them not being mandatory anymore, which would suggest the government is erring on the side of caution and unlikely to lift mask requirements in medical centres.

Spain was the last country in the EU to lift the indoor mask requirement, and in some European countries, most recently Portugal, masks have also been dropped in health centres.

According to recent figures from the Health Ministry, the percentage of ICU beds in Spain occupied by patients with Covid-19 is less than 2 percent (1.31 percent), and general hospital beds 1.73 percent. The cumulative incidence for the last 14 days in people over 60 years of age was 70.45.

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