Masks, soon to be a thing of the past in bars and restaurants. / EP

Spain is to cancel the indoor mask rule on 20 April

There are some exceptions such as on public transport, in hospitals and when visiting or working in residential homes

ÁLVARO SOTO MADRID.

In schools, shops, bars and elsewhere, people will be able to see each other's faces again from 20 April, as the Spanish government is due to approve the lifting of the obligation to wear a mask inside buildings on 19th. It was decided to delay the move until after Easter, for fear of a major increase in positive cases of Covid-19 because of all the people who will be mixing in crowded situations.

Health minister Carolina Darias says this is the right time to make the move, due to the way the pandemic has evolved and because 92.5 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. "We will continue to monitor infections among vulnerable people and the situation in the Intensive Care units," she said, but she did not indicate whether the rule would be reinstated if the number of infections shoots up.

It was 23 months ago, on 19 May 2020 that Spain made masks compulsory and although their use outside was made more flexible, this is the first time masks have not been obligatory inside buildings.

There will be some exceptions, however. Even when the restriction is lifted, masks will still be needed on public transport, in hospitals (by staff and by patients in communal areas) and by people visiting or working in residential homes. People are also asked to behave responsibly and wear a mask when in the company of vulnerable people, when it is not possible to maintain 1.5 metre social distance and in places without good ventilation.

When announcing the decision to lift the requirement for masks indoors, Darias stressed that they will no longer be required by teachers (unless they are vulnerable) or pupils, but said that in the workplace it will be up to the prevention departments to decide whether masks should be worn or not. She did not say whether employees could be obliged to wear one against their wishes.

Although she said there had been "consensus" over the decision to lift the rule on 20 April, there is still a fair amount of debate among the different regions. Madrid and Catalonia, among others, had been calling for this to be done before Easter, saying they couldn't understand why they had to wait, while the Junta de Andalucía's health minister, Jesús Aguirre, says the decision is too hasty because "it means that people will think there is less risk," and will not take the pandemic seriously enough. He wanted to wait until May, after Easter and the April Fair in Seville, and says his ministry will still recommend wearing masks indoors.