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Spain to go back to requiring masks outdoors amid record coronavirus surge

A family wearing masks on a crowded street at night in downtown Madrid
People wear masks outdoors in downtown Madrid on Wednesday amid Spain’s record surge in coronavirus cases.
(Manu Fernandez / Associated Press)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is convening a special Cabinet meeting Thursday to pass a law by decree that makes it mandatory to wear masks outdoors, amid a record surge in coronavirus cases.

Sánchez announced at a meeting Wednesday with the leaders of regional governments that he was assenting to their appeals to expand mask-wearing rules, his office said. A previous outdoor mask mandate expired earlier this year. The new mandate will be a decree-law, which does not require a debate or vote in parliament to take effect.

He also announced a raft of other measures, including an offer to deploy the armed forces to help the regions step up their vaccination rollout and put military hospital beds at their disposal if they are needed.

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Sánchez said he is targeting 80% of the 60-69 age group to have received booster shots by the end of next week, among other goals.

Also, coronavirus tests for professional use will temporarily be placed on sale at pharmacies, amid a reported shortage of tests, and medical teams will be reinforced with retired staff and specialists who earned their qualifications outside the European Union.

Furthermore, fully vaccinated people won’t need to quarantine if they have been in contact with an infected person — a measure that seemed to be aimed at avoiding the shortages of essential personnel.

More than 6,500 new infections were reported Wednesday, more than double the previous day’s tally.

Spain on Tuesday officially recorded almost 50,000 new cases of coronavirus. That’s higher than last January, when a surge placed the national health system under severe strain.

Spain is reporting almost 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, more than double the accumulated cases before last year’s Christmas holidays. The Omicron variant has soared from being responsible for 5% of new cases in Spain to 47% within one week.

Still, vaccinations are credited with sparing many people from the coronavirus’ worst effects. While last January some 30,000 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital in Spain, now it’s fewer than 8,000.

Sánchez told the Spanish parliament Wednesday that 90% of the target population 12 and over is fully vaccinated.

He told lawmakers: “Don’t worry, families will be able to celebrate Christmas. Spain has prevailed.”


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