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.
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”.
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”.
Teenage girl travelling on scooter seriously injured in collision
A teenage girl was seriously injured after she was struck by a van while she was travelling on a push scooter in Dublin, gardaí have said.
The collision happened on Walkinstown Avenue in Dublin 12 shortly after 6pm on Wednesday.
The scene was preserved for technical examination, and investigations are continuing.
Gardaí are appealing to anyone with information on the incident to contact them at Crumlin Garda station on 01-666-6200, the Garda confidential line on 1800-666-111 or any Garda station.
Any person, whether a motorist or pedestrian, who was travelling along Walkinstown Avenue on Wednesday between 5.45pm and 6.30pm is also asked to come forward.
Gardaí have asked that any camera footage is made available to them.
Preparation for next winter’s wave of pandemic already under way, says Tánaiste
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic could continue into next winter saying we need to “seize the summer” while preparing for a possible resurgence.
It comes as the Government announced new restrictions in response to the continued high level of cases of the virus and the threat of the new Omicron variant.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin listed the new restrictions on the hospitality and entertainment sectors in a televised address where he told the country he shares “the disappointment and frustration that this will cause”.
Mr Martin said it is “not about going back to the days of lockdowns” but about adjusting the guidelines to the current threat from the virus.
The Government has accepted recommendations made by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which will be in place from next Tuesday, December 7th until January 9th.
Under the new measures nightclubs will closed and there will be tighter measures adopted again in bars, restaurants and hotels.
Tables will be limited to six individuals and no multiple bookings will be allowed though closing time remains at midnight.
There is to be a maximum of 50 per cent capacity at indoor entertainment and sporting events.
Covid passes will be required for gyms, leisure centres, and hotel bars and restaurants.
Mr Martin confirmed the Government has adopted Nphet’s advice on household visits and limiting them to three other households, while acknowledging the need for flexibility.
Mr Varadkar said this will be advice and it won’t be enforced by gardaí. The Government is not telling people what they can and can’t do in their own homes, he said.
The current rules for weddings remain unchanged.
At a press conference on Friday evening it was put to Mr Martin that he had previously said that once a sector was opened it would not close again and the new measures amounted to an admission of failure.
He replied: “Not at all. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment… the threats with the virus change and I think the vast bulk of society is open and remains open.”
Strong seasonal component
Mr Varadkar conceded that the pandemic could still be around next winter.
He said some experts have suggested the pandemic could last five years adding: “I certainly hope that’s not the case.”
Mr Varadkar said it is clear there is a strong seasonal component and that means two things have to be done.
Firstly he said “we need to seize the summer”.
“The last two summers we had the toughest restrictions in Europe… I’m determined that will not be the case next summer. We should open safely if we can”.
Secondly, he said: “We also need to prepare for next winter while dealing with this winter because there will be new variants”.
That includes building up the capacity of our health service and in the test, trace and isolate system, which he said the Government has been doing.
Mr Varadkar did say that scientists believe they can tweak vaccines for new variants within three months and there will new anti-viral tablets available next year and “that will help too”.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said one thing that gives him confidence is the booster vaccine campaign and indications that the jabs will still provide protection from the Omicron variant.
The Government announced a series of expanded financial supports for the hospitality and entertainment sectors and workers who may lose their jobs.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will be temporarily reopened to new entrants in order to cater for people who lose their jobs as a result of the restrictions. Further details are to be announced in the coming days.
There is to be an extra €25 million to support the live entertainment sector.
Mr Varadkar said that the Covid Response Support Scheme (CRSS) will be reformed to help more businesses.
Up until now it was only paid to businesses that had to close or saw a 75 per cent reduction in turnover. It will now apply to businesses like restaurants, pubs, theatres and nightclubs who are impacted by the restrictions though there will be terms and conditions involved. Minister Paschal Donohoe is looking at raising the weekly €5,000 cap.
The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) – the rates of which were cut this week – will stay at the new reduced rates.
Mr Varadkar said this is because the majority of businesses and jobs supported by the EWSS are not in sectors affected by the new restrictions.
He said the Government want to make sure EWSS is targeted at those that need it the most.
There will be a €62.3 million targeted commercial rates waiver for the first three months of 2022 for businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sector that are impacted by the restrictions.
Nphet proposes cap on households mixing over Christmas period
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that no more than four households should mix over the Christmas period.
Nphet met on Thursday to consider advice for the Government on the latest pandemic situation, at a time when Covid-19 case numbers have stabilised at a high level and further information on the Omicron variant is being awaited.
It last night sent a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly which recommends a maximum of six people at a table in bars and restaurants, the closure of nightclubs and limits on households mixing.
The contents of the letter are expected to be discussed by Ministers and senior officials at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Friday.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Government would move “as quickly as it can” to examine the latest recommendations from Nphet and to decide if further restrictions will be introduced. She said the Cabinet would need to be given time to “look at this advice and take it on board”.
During an interview on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms McEntee said the Government had to ensure it was clear about about what it would do in terms of restrictions and why before anything was announced.
“Of course if there are impacts on businesses at any stage of this…I hope people would agree that we haven’t left people wanting,” she said. “We have always responded where business has needed additional income. Where individuals have lost their jobs. We have always provided that support. This won’t be any different.”
Tests for travellers
Separately, the Government has notified airlines that the introduction of a system of PCR and antigen testing for passengers arriving into Ireland has been delayed by 48 hours.
|Confirmed cases in hospital||Confirmed cases in ICU|
The measure was due to come into force on Friday, but Aer Lingus said airlines had been informed on Thursday night that the regulations would now begin on Sunday. All arrivals into the State – whether vaccinated or not – will need a negative Covid-19 test result from then onwards.
Those travelling with an antigen test result will need to have obtained it within 48 hours of arrival into Ireland, and it will have to be a professionally administered test.
No self-administered tests will be accepted under rules approved by Cabinet. Those with a PCR test result will have a longer pre-travel window of 72 hours before arrival. Persons arriving into the State from overseas who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be required also to have a certified negative test.
Hospitality sector meeting
Meanwhile, Government members are due to meet representatives of the hospitality industry on Friday. Ministers have said there will be supports for the sector if new pandemic measures will impact on their ability to trade.
Ms McEntee said she was particularly conscious that people had been asked to pull back and to reduce their social contacts.
“I am talking to businesses particularly in the hospitality sector and I know the impact that is having on them. This should be their busiest time and it’s not. We are taking this on board. We are going to support all of these businesses as we have always done during the pandemic,” she said.
The Minister dismissed suggestions that the Government was flip flopping or that there was confusion behind the scenes, saying the State is in a “fluid situation” because of the nature of Covid-19.
“What we have seen with the antigen test is that the market has corrected itself. That wasn’t a matter of flip flops or changing. We simply saw the market adjust itself. It is not about Government changing direction. We have to change direction sometimes because of the nature of this pandemic. Everybody is doing their best here,” she said.
‘Random and arbitrary’
Earlier, Maynooth University professor of immunology Paul Moynagh said the latest restrictions reportedly proposed by Nphet could lead to some benefits but seem ed “random and arbitrary”.
He told Newstalk Breakfast that “big mistakes” have been made with regard to messaging to the public.
“Back in September contact tracing was stood down the reason being that children were missing too much school. But we had the option of keeping contact tracing and using antigen testing. And there has been a resistance over the last year from Nphet in terms of using antigen testing,” he said.
“We saw over the last number of days the reluctance of Nphet again to impress advice from experts in the area of ventilation and air filtration. There seems to be this reluctance to accept scientific advice from outside.”
Prof Moynagh said there was a need to look at this reluctance and “learn from our mistakes”.
“Whereas at the moment it seems that mistakes are made and that narrative is defended. And again we end up now with new restrictions that I am not convinced are going to be very impactful,” he said.
“We know they are going to be highly impactful in terms of the sectors for example. I am not convinced by the strategy that is being used at the moment.”
Eco-friendly products for your home from bed throws to carpet runners
Teenage girl travelling on scooter seriously injured in collision
Novel ideas: the books Scott Morrison should have on his summer reading list | Australian books
The 1915 Armenian Genocide and its Russophobic Origins
What’s artificial intelligence best at? Stealing human ideas | Technology
The Religious Roots of Russia’s Mistrust towards the West
Global Affairs1 week ago
Turkey accused of using Interpol summit to crack down on critics | Interpol
Current1 week ago
Victorian fernery vs modern orangery: Which home would you pick?
Global Affairs1 week ago
Interpol’s president: alleged torturer rises as symbol of UAE soft power | Global development
Technology1 week ago
Best podcasts of the week: the life and death of Diego Maradona | Podcasts
Technology6 days ago
Cork start-up Gasgon Medical wins at the 2021 Seedcorn competition
Current1 week ago
Why has years of big health spending not improved the system?
Global Affairs6 days ago
‘We will start again’: Afghan female MPs fight on from parliament in exile | Afghanistan
Current6 days ago
Ulster show their grit to hold off Leinster and end unbeaten run