Pedro Sánchez (r), together with the president of the Senate, Ander Gil, this Wednesday. / EFE

PM Sánchez makes masks mandatory outdoors in Spain again, but rules out other measures - for now

The Spanish prime minister has told the presidents of the regions that the Cabinet will approve a decree law, on Thursday, to make masks mandatory outdoors - even if social distancing can be maintained

MELCHOR SÁIZ-PARDO

Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez has announced to an emergency meeting of regional presidents that on Thursday (23 December) an Extraordinary Cabinet meeting will approve a decree law to make the use of face masks compulsory outdoors, again.

Although there will be exceptions, such as for the practice of sports, in principle, the Government’s plan is to make the use of the coronavirus protection measure mandatory in most circumstances and regardless of whether or not the 1.5 metres safe social distance can be maintained.

The mask has not been mandatory outdoors since 25 June, following a royal decree that partially modified Law 2/2021 on the urgent prevention, containment and coordination measures to face the health crisis and which was the one that made it mandatory.

Now, a new decree, will – in principle - return to the wording that was changed in the summer, when measures were relaxed to as the pandemic situation improved.

With this Wednesday's decision the prime minister decided to endorse the demand of a large number of regional presidents such as those of Castilla y León, Navarra, Andalucía, Castilla-La Mancha, the Valencian region, Galicia, the Basque Country, the Canary Islands and Catalonia. All of them had demanded the return of the facial protection, which was only openly opposed by Madrid’s regional government head.

Ruled out other additional restrictions

Beyond the return of mandatory masks outdoors, Sánchez has ruled out other additional restrictions, which he could have ordered by decree and which were demanded by various regions, such as setting new capacity limits in the hospitality sectors and events; or establishing opening hour limitations in bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Instead of imposing big restrictions just two days before Christmas Eve, Pedro Sánchez and the Ministry of Health, instead have opted to announce operational measures, especially to "intensify and accelerate" the vaccination process. The prime minister has promised to reinforce the vaccination process with armed forces personnel and equipment, in addition to making military hospitals available to speed up the jabs.

The target is to have 80% of the population between 60-69 years vaccinated with a third dose before the end of the year; 80% between 50-59 years old by the week of 24 January; 80% between 40-49 years old in the first week of March; 70% with the first pediatric dose in the week of 7 February; and 70% with the second pediatric dose in the week of 19 April.

Health professionals

Sánchez also announced that the Central Executive will authorise the hiring of retired and early-retirement healthcare personnel and that it will authorise the hiring of professionals with a specialist degree obtained in non-EU member states. In addition, the number of available health professionals will be increased and their working conditions will improve, reducing temporary work to below 8%. The State Budget will allocate 292 million euros, most of it transferred to the regions, for this shock plan against the spread of the Omicron variant.

The PM also reeled off other measures already approved by Spain's Public Health Commission, such as the abolition of self-isoltaion for fully-jabbed people who have had direct contact with an infected person.