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The Extraordinary 12th Century Cathedral in Vladimir, Russia

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This article appeared on a new site about the Christian renaissance in Russia, called Russian Faith. Their introductory video is at end of this article.


Vladimir. Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Northwest view. May 16, 1995.

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Vladimir. Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Northwest view. May 16, 1995.

William Brumfield


Editors Note: This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.


At the beginning of the 20th century the Russian chemist and photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky invented a complex process for vivid, detailed color photography (see box text below).

His vision of photography as a form of education and enlightenment was demonstrated with special clarity through his photographs of medieval architecture in historic settlements northeast of Moscow, including Suzdal and Vladimir, which he visited in the summer of 1911. 

Among his several views of the town are two photographs of the monumental Dormition Cathedral: a distant view from the east and a view from the northwest. My photographic work in Vladimir, including the Dormition Cathedral, spans a period from 1972 to 2009. 

Dormition Cathedral. West view across Erofeev Descent. May 25, 1998.

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Dormition Cathedral. West view across Erofeev Descent. May 25, 1998.

William Brumfield


The fortress of Vladimir was established in 1108 on the Klyazma River by Vladimir Monomakh, who ruled as Grand Prince in Kiev from 1113 to 1125. Under his guidance, Vladimir and the surrounding settlements became a center of political and economic power in the lands of the eastern Slavs. Under Monomakh’s descendants in the second half of the 12th century, the Vladimir area witnessed a surge in church construction with a form of limestone known as white stone.   

Medieval Masterpiece

The most important of these temples was the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Assumption), begun in 1158 by Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky. The plan of the Dormition Cathedral conformed to the elongated plan with a dome in the center typical of large churches in Kiev and Novgorod during the same period. The stone facades displayed a few high-relief carvings.

The source of such skilled technical work remains unclear. The Laurentian chronicle mentions the bringing of masters from “all lands,” and there are later references to Nemtsi, or “Germans”— a term broadly used for foreigners. It has been proposed that the artisans were sent to Bogoliubsky by Frederick Barbarossa. If certain features of the Vladimir churches — such as the portals and decorative stonework — suggest a Western Romanesque presence, the basic plan remained in the tradition of Byzantine church architecture as adapted in early medieval Rus. 

Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). 1911.

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Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). 1911.

Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky


The Dormition Cathedral was soon rebuilt in a larger and more complex form during the reign of Andrei Bogoliubsky’s half-brother, Vsevolod III (Yurevich). The impetus for the expansion came from a fire in 1185 that destroyed much of Vladimir and severely damaged the Dormition Cathedral.

In rebuilding the cathedral (1185-90), Vsevolod’s builders dismantled the attached galleries,but retained the walls of the original structure, weakened by fire, as the core of the new cathedral. The space was expanded by adding aisles to the north, west and south sides. The walls of the addition were raised two stories, but not to the full height of the original structure. Thus the relation between the old and the new was ingeniously defined in the rebuilt structure. 

Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

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Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

William Brumfield


The cathedral was crowned by four secondary domes placed diagonally to the main dome. On the east, the three-part apse, visible in Prokudin-Gorsky’s color photograph, was rebuilt with an increase in depth.

The new facades were marked at mid-level by an arcade frieze with accents of carved ornamentation. Some of the decorative stonework on the north and south walls was transferred from the original cathedral. The new Dormition Cathedral provided a model for the revival of architecture in Muscovy at the end of the 15th century, exemplified by the Dormition Cathedral (1470s) at the center of the Moscow Kremlin. 

Mongol conquest

Less than a half century after the completion of the Dormition Cathedral, the Vladimir principality was overwhelmed by the Mongol invasion of Rus. In late February 1238, the city was captured and sacked with great loss of life. The grand prince at that time, Vsevolod’s son Yury, was killed a few days later in a final battle with the Mongol armies. When Yury’s wife, Agafya, along with other members of the family, took refuge in the cathedral, the Mongols placed burning timber against the thick walls, and those inside were asphyxiated.

Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

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Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

William Brumfield


Despite these cataclysmic events, the Dormition Cathedral survived. Vladimir was sacked again by a large Mongol raid in 1408, during which the cathedral was ransacked and damaged. Two renowned painters, Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chorny, were brought to redo the interior. Rublev’s surviving frescoes are located in the western part of the cathedral and depict the Last Judgement. The two also painted icons for a new icon screen. Although the icon screen was redone in the Baroque style in the late 18th century, some of the Rublev icons were preserved and are now in the collection of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. 

Dormition Cathedral. Northeast view. June 19, 1994.

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Dormition Cathedral. Northeast view. June 19, 1994.

William Brumfield


In 1785-90 the area along a bluff to the east of the Dormition was given to the construction of the Regional Administration Offices, visible in Prokudin-Gorsky’s photograph (on the right) and in mine taken six decades later. Designed in the neoclassical style favored during the reign of Catherine the Great, the long 3-story building has been criticized as a dissonant element situated between the medieval Cathedral of the Dormition and Vsevolod’s palace church, dedicated to St. Demetrius. Nonetheless, the solidly-built structure has endured and continues to serve the town.

Neoclassical revival

During a visit to Vladimir in 1767, Catherine was taken by the Dormition Cathedral and personally supported its renovation, including the creation of the lavish icon screen mentioned above. Although well-intentioned, changes effected in this and subsequent decades had an impact on the cathedral’s appearance. 

Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. 1911.

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Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. 1911.

Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky


In 1810, a large bell tower was erected just to the north, and in 1862 a church dedicated to St. George was designed by Nicholas Artleben in a Gothic Revival style to fill the space between the bell tower and cathedral’s north façade. These additions created a new perspective on the ensemble from the north, facing the town’s main street (Moscow Street). This north perspective is clearly rendered in Prokudin-Gorsky’s contact print. The original negative is lost. 

Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. Left: Regional Administration. March 6, 1972.

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Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. Left: Regional Administration. March 6, 1972.

William Brumfield


Comprehensive, informed restoration work in the 1880s eliminated most of the distortions made during the preceding century and uncovered a major section of Andrei Rublev’s frescoes. Another prolonged restoration phase concluded in the early 1980s.

Dormition Cathedral. Southwest view. May 26, 1997.

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Dormition Cathedral. Southwest view. May 26, 1997.

William Brumfield


In 1992, the Dormition Cathedral was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Responsibility for this grand cultural and historical monument is now shared between the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum Preserve and the Diocese of Vladimir, for which it serves as the main cathedral. 

Dormition Cathedral. West facade, arcade frieze. July 18, 2009.

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Dormition Cathedral. West facade, arcade frieze. July 18, 2009.

William Brumfield


In the early 20th century the Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky invented a complex process for color photography. Between 1903 and 1916 he traveled through the Russian Empire and took over 2,000 photographs with the new process, which involved three exposures on a glass plate.

In August 1918 he left Russia with a large part of his collection of glass negatives and ultimately resettled in France. After his death in Paris in 1944, his heirs sold his collection to the Library of Congress.

In the early 21st century the Library digitized the Prokudin-Gorsky Collection and made it freely available to the global public. Numerous Russian websites now have versions of the collection.

In 1986 the architectural historian and photographer William Brumfield organized the first exhibit of Prokudin-Gorsky photographs at the Library of Congress. Over a period of work in Russia beginning in 1970, Brumfield has photographed most of the sites visited by Prokudin-Gorsky. 

This series of articles will juxtapose Prokudin-Gorsky’s views of architectural monuments with photographs taken by Brumfield decades later. 


A video introducing Russian Faith:

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Systematic American Mistakes Are Making Russia Great Again

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Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.


After a year and a half of silence accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft  and wire fraud.

He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info  (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet,  used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these  to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s  faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.

There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.

There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.

There is a difference between being indicted and being convicted: a convicted person is proven guilty; an indicted person is protected by  the presumption of innocence until convicted. To be convicted in a  criminal trial, a person has to be physically present before the court  because one has the right to face one’s accusers. A trial held in  absentia is automatically a kangaroo court. The 13 Russians are Russian  nationals residing in Russia. According to the Russian constitution,  Russian citizens cannot be extradited to stand trial in a foreign court,  and it seems exceedingly unlikely that they will face criminal charges  in Russia based on Mueller’s indictment. Therefore, these 13 Russians  have to be presumed innocent under US law—forever—even if they get to spend time in a Russian jail, convicted under Russian law.

It’s still possible that one of these Russians will at some point travel  abroad, get snatched and shipped off to the US to stand trial, and be  convicted of money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud. But the  charge of working to undermine the American people’s faith in the  wholesome goodness of their democracy would be rather hard to prove,  mostly because there isn’t much of it to be found these days. The  accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by  crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question  had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just  ignored it and crapped in it anyway.

The reason the Outhouse of American Democracy is posted “No Russians!”  is because Russia is the enemy. There aren’t any compelling reasons why  it should be the enemy, and treating it as such is incredibly foolish  and dangerous, but that’s beside the point. Painting Russia as the enemy  serves a psychological need rather than a rational one: Americans  desperately need some entity onto which they can project their own  faults. The US is progressing toward a fascist police state; therefore,  Russia is said to be a horrible dictatorship run by Putin. The US  traditionally meddles in elections around the world, including Russia;  therefore, the Russians are said to meddle in US elections. The US is  the most aggressive country on the planet, occupying and bombing dozens  of countries; therefore, the Russians are accused of “aggression.” And  so on…

If (for whatever stupid reason) Russia is indeed America’s enemy, it  stands to reason that the Americans would want to make it weaker rather  than stronger. Working to strengthen one’s enemy seems like a poor  strategy. And yet that is what has been happening: the last two US  administrations—Obama’s and Trump’s—both have been steadfastly aiding  and abetting Russia’s rise to greatness. Aiding and abetting the enemy  is bad enough by itself, but it would also appear that they have been  doing so unwittingly. Thus, if Mueller really had the health and beauty  of American democracy in his heart, he would have indicted both the  Obama and the Trump administrations for aiding and abetting the enemy  through gross negligence. Here is how the indictment would read:

1. The Obama administration falsely accused the government of Syria of  carrying out an attack using chemical weapons near Damascus on August  21, 2013 in order to find an excuse to attack and invade Syria. Chemical  weapons were in fact used in that incident, but not by the forces  controlled by the Syrian government. Since the Syrian government had no  interest in either using chemical weapons or in maintaining its chemical  weapons stockpile, this gave Russia an opening to negotiate an  international deal under which Syria surrendered its entire stockpile of  chemical weapons, which were destroyed, and international inspectors  subsequently certified Syria as being free of them. This incident showed  Russia to be a trustworthy partner, able to peacefully resolve crises  through negotiation, raising its stature in the world, and the US to be a  rogue state willing to use any means, including the use of chemical  weapons against civilians, in order to justify its illegal use of force.  Following in Obama’s footsteps, the Trump administration, soon after  assuming office, used similar unverified accusations of a Syrian  chemical weapons attack to ineffectually bomb a Syrian airbase using  Tomahawk missiles.

2. In February 2014 the Obama administration organized and carried out a  bloody coup in Kiev, staging a massacre using foreign mercenaries,  falsely accusing the Ukraine’s constitutional government of carrying it  out, overthrowing it, and installing a puppet regime managed by the CIA  and the US State Department. The nature of this regime, which is  comprised of oligarchs and criminals allied with neo-Nazi groups, and  which has elevated to the status of national heroes certain perpetrators  of genocide against Jews, Poles and others during World War II, has  been kept hidden from the public in the US. But because Russia and the  Ukraine are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally or religiously  distinct, and have existed as a single entity through most of their  history, most Russians understood what had happened. The chaos and  mayhem that followed the putsch gave the Russian government an opening  to hold a referendum in Crimea, which was briefly joined to the Ukraine,  but which had been part of Russia since 1783, and to re-annex the  territory. It also led to armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and the  formation of two de facto independent republics there, making the  Ukraine into a semi-defunct state that does not control its own  territory. All of these developments led to a tremendous surge of  patriotic feeling among Russians, who felt proud of being able to  reclaim what they saw as rightfully theirs and felt threatened by seeing  the Ukraine once again fall to the fascists. True to form, the Trump  administration has continued Obama’s this policy of Making Russia Great  Again by providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons and  advice.

3. Although the Russian annexation of Crimea, based on an overwhelming  victory in a popular referendum and a great showing of public support,  was impeccably legal in upholding the Crimea’s right to  self-determination (unlike NATO previous annexation of Kosovo), the  Obama administration saw it fit to impose economic sanctions on Russia  in retribution. These sanctions, together with Russia’s  counter-sanctions on food exports from the EU, have finally provided the  impetus for Russia to break with the past pattern of exporting gas and  oil and importing just about everything else, and to embrace the  strategy of import replacement. This has allowed Russia to become  self-sufficient in many areas, such as oil and gas exploration and  production technology, agriculture and many other areas. Although Russia  experienced a period of considerable economic difficulty which saw the  purchasing power of the population dwindle substantially, Russia’s  economy has survived. The popularity of the national leadership did not  suffer because most Russians now understand what they are fighting for  and, given the barrage of negative news from the Ukraine, who their  enemy is, and what would happen to them if they were to show weakness.

4. Although the Trump administration has mostly followed in Obama’s  footsteps in Making Russia Great Again, the most recent round of  anti-Russian sanctions, which the Trump administration did not impose  but only announced, as required by an act of Congress, was inadvertently  an act of pure genius. What Trump’s flunkies did was take the Kremlin  directory and the Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, and  put them together into a single list of people. If these sanctions were  actually imposed rather than merely threatened, those having any  dealings with the individuals on this list would suffer legal  repercussions. The brilliance of this plan is in two parts. First, there  have been some differences of orientation among the members of the  Kremlin administration: some were more US-oriented than others. What  this list did was make them look foolish in their hopes of ever  appeasing the US. Before, the US had a few lukewarm champions inside the  Kremlin; now it has zero. Second, Russia has had a problem with wealthy  individuals moving their capital abroad, to Switzerland, to various  offshore tax havens, and most notably to the United States, which is the  money laundering capital of the world. But now Trump has threatened  them with wealth confiscation. At the same time, the Russian government  has extended a tax amnesty for those wishing to repatriate their  capital. As a result, a flood of money is now reentering the Russian  economy, giving it a major boost.

Once you put it all together, the charge against the last two US  administrations for Making Russia Great Again by aiding and abetting it,  unwittingly and through gross negligence, becomes compelling. There is,  of course, no chance at all that anybody will be put on trial for it,  but that may not be necessary. As shown by the #MeToo movement, it is no  longer necessary in contemporary America to prove a crime; a mere  allegation is now sufficient to end careers and to ruin reputations. You  can play this game too: of each US policy or initiative announced  against Russia, ask yourself: How is it going to help Make Russia Great  Again? Because it probably will.

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Rotunda to lift restrictions on partners attending appointments

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Restrictions on partners attending appointments at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin are to be removed from the beginning of November.

The Rotunda said it was planning to return to “pre-Covid” access to appointments for patients and their partners as the country enters the next stage of living with the disease.

It said that from next Monday partners would be able to attend booking visit appointments and appointments in the hospital’s high-risk clinic. From November 1st, the hospital would “remove remaining restrictions for partners for other antenatal outpatient appointments”.

The hospital said it reviewed and risk assessed its Covid-19 safety measures each week, while taking into account rates of infection in the community, vaccination rates amongst patients and the hospital’s “unique infrastructural challenges”.

“We have already restored access similar to pre-pandemic levels in most areas of the hospital, including early pregnancy scans, anomaly scans, the emergency and assessment unit, and our inpatient wards,” the hospital said in a statement.

It said many of the Rotunda’s outpatient areas were “in older buildings with very small waiting areas” and in order to manage potential overcrowding in those areas it “strongly encouraged” patients to attend outpatient appointments alone. It recommended that women only bring partners for “occasional visits, such as if you have a complicated or special issue to discuss with your care team”.

The Rotunda said that at times when there is high footfall, partners could be asked to “wait outside the building until called to the consultation room”. It dded that it was important to remember that Covid-19 “has not gone away and is in fact endemic within our community”.

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When will face masks no longer be compulsory indoors in Spain?

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With Covid-19 vaccine campaigns in their later stages and infection rates generally lower, several countries around the world have eased their face mask rules.

Such is the case in England, where masks are now not required in shops and even on certain modes of public transport, or in the US, where fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear one in most indoor settings. 

Spain on the other hand has been strict on its mask-wearing policy throughout the pandemic and its citizens have willingly complied in general.

Many people are still wearing masks outdoors, even though they’ve not been required by Spanish authorities since June, as long as a safety distance of 1.5 metres can be maintained.

So when might it be possible to remove face masks indoors in Spain (other than for eating and drinking) ?

In early October, Spanish media reported that Health Minister Carolina Darias had said that the use of masks indoors would be required until the spring of 2022.

On Wednesday at a press conference after Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council, Darias stressed she never stated that the mandatory use of masks would end in spring next year.

“The face mask has come to stay, at least while the flu virus or other possible viruses are present this autumn,” she reiterated.

“Spain was one of the first countries to regulate the safety distance in outdoor spaces to not have to wear a mask outside, but we know the importance of its use indoors where transmission by aerosols is proven”.

“Let’s take it slowly,” Darias concluded.

READ ALSO – Calendar: When will the Covid restrictions end across Spain?

As usual, Spain’s regional governments have their own views on Covid-19 rules.

Madrid president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional leader with the most liberal take on Covid restrictions during the pandemic, has again taken a different approach by actually offering something closer to a date for when mandatory mask-wearing indoors will be scrapped.

The end of indoor masks should come “after Christmas,” stated Ayuso in late September. “Total” normality and “pre-pandemic” life should not be delayed beyond the spring of 2022, she added.  

Castilla-La Mancha president Emiliano García-Page has also suggested February 2022 as an end date for mandatory masks indoors in the central Spanish region. 

Are regions relaxing any mask-wearing rules?

Catalan Education Minister Josep González-Cambray said on Wednesday that “We will get rid of face masks in schools as soon as we can”. 

According to González-Cambray, the use of face masks in schools is a “health measure” dependent on epidemiological criteria, which is why it will be down to the health departments to decide.

In Valencia, the Generalitat government has said that it will scrap the requirement for children to wear a mask in the school playground. 

“We are working every week with the Health Department and in the next few days the protocol will be updated” because the numbers have been very favorable,” said Valencia’s Minister of Education Vicent Marzà on Saturday.

However, in the Balearic Islands, the regional government has decided the use of masks in the school playground should continue, causing an outcry from many students and their parents.

Balearic  Minister of Health Patricia Gómez confirmed yesterday that the use of masks will continue to be mandatory in school playgrounds “until the situation improves”.

READ ALSO – Going out in Spain: What are the rules for bars and nightclubs?

Why wait until after the winter if the numbers are good now?

The epidemiological situation in Spain is currently the best it’s been since autumn of last year, with a 14-day cumulative incidence of 40.85 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

This means that the country is currently at very low risk for Covid infections according to the categorisation used by the Spanish health ministry.

In addition to this, almost 80 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a percentage that’s higher still if focusing only on those who are eligible for the vaccine (people aged 12 and over).

According to César Carballo, deputy emergency physician at Hospital Ramón y Cajal in Madrid, Spain is in a good epidemiological situation now which should allow to at least remove their masks outdoors.

But flu season is on its way, government leaders and health professionals are keen for the use of masks indoors to continue until after the winter.  

“There is talk that we may have more cases of the flu. We do not know. Last year the flu disappeared completely. We will see this year,” Carballo told Spanish TV channel La Sexta.

“Health personnel are exhausted … to suffer a wave of flu this year would be a severe blow,” he added. “If it were up to me I would maintain that mask-wearing indoors should be required until January or February, accompanied by hand washing and distance”.

READ ALSO: Getting the flu vaccine in Spain in 2021: What you need to know



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