Council of Ministers

The Government of Spain agrees to make face masks compulsory outdoors again

Council of Ministers - 2021.12.23

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The Council of Ministers has approved a Royal Decree-Law on urgent prevention and containment measures to deal with the health crisis caused by COVID, which establishes the mandatory use of masks outdoors, regardless of the safety distance.

The Minister for Health, Carolina Darias, appeared at the press conference following the Council of Ministers to report on the agreement, adopted at yesterday's Conference of Presidents, and to detail the commitments.

Outdoor use of masks

Foto: Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la BellacasaDarias explained that we are witnessing a significant increase in infections and accumulated incidence in Spain, as in the rest of the world, and that the Omicron variant is gaining ground. In light of this situation, the President of the Government of Spain and the regional governments agreed yesterday to resume the use of face masks outdoors.

The new regulation makes a one-off amendment to Article 6 of the so-called New Normality Law, restoring the requirement for people over the age of 6 to wear face masks in all outdoor spaces to reduce community transmission of the virus.

Exceptions to the rule are individual sport and walking in natural areas, such as the countryside or the beach, as long as a distance of 1.5 metres is maintained with other people who are not cohabitants.

The minister stressed that this is a temporary measure that will be in force "for as long as necessary until the epidemiological situation improves". In fact, she clarified, the Royal Decree-Law empowers the Council of Ministers to subsequently "intensify or relax the use of masks".

Strengthening human resources

Carolina Darias added that the Royal Decree-Law approved includes two extraordinary measures, which will be in force until 31 December 2022, and will contribute to supporting the regional governments.

On one hand, public and private health centres are permitted to hire medical and nursing professionals to carry out COVID-related care activities, while maintaining retirement benefits and guaranteeing the rights of retired people.

On the other hand, it allows the regional governments, the National Institute of Health Management (INGESA) and the Ministry of Defence to recruit health professionals with specialist qualifications obtained in non-EU Member States that have a report from the Evaluation Committee in accordance with the applicable regulations.

The Minister for Health pointed out that the Omicron variant has meant that the burden of care is increasing, especially in primary care and, therefore, the Government's efforts are focusing on extending and strengthening this backbone of the National Health System.

Other measures to accelerate vaccinations

Foto: Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la BellacasaCarolina Darias reported that the President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, yesterday made the hospitals of the military health network available to the presidents of the regional governments and cities, including the Gómez Ulla Central Defence Hospital in Madrid and the General Defence Hospital in Zaragoza, as additional vaccination centres.

In addition, regions will have 150 teams of mobile vaccination units with the necessary staff to record the vaccines being given.

Our fundamental tool is vaccination, Darias said: "One of the biggest certainties we have is that the vaccines work and that against this new Omicron variant, the third dose is proving to be an important wall, especially against severe disease, hospitalisation and death".

Recognition for health workers and citizens

The Minister for Health has sent a message of recognition to health professionals for "their permanent commitment in this time of the pandemic" and to the public for "the exemplary behaviour they have shown".

Darias insisted on the importance of maintaining, in addition to the use of masks, the other preventive measures of distance, ventilation of spaces and hand hygiene, especially during these dates of meetings, travel and crowds in cities.

Conference of presidents

Carolina Darias stressed that the Conference of presidents held yesterday concluded with the clear objective of speeding up vaccinating the entire population, in addition to the return of masks.

The targets set are for 80% of the population over 60 years of age to end this year with an additional booster dose. Citizens aged 50-59 should reach that percentage in the week of 24 January, and those aged 40-49 should have the booster dose in the first week of March.

The minister also indicated that 70% of children aged 5-11 years will receive the first paediatric dose the week of 7 February and the second dose the week of 18 April.

In her opinion, Spain can achieve these objectives because it has the strength of the National Health System, the commitment of the Government, the regional governments and cities, and the exemplary behaviour of its citizens, which has made our country "an international benchmark for high vaccination rates".

We have enough vaccines

The minister said that the Executive has enough doses to vaccinate the entire population. "In addition to the stocks held by the regional governments and the Ministry of Health, we have 8 million vaccines in the fridge. And by 2022, we will have 90 million vaccine doses under contract," she said.

We will spare no resources

Foto: Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la BellacasaFor her part, the Minister for Territorial Policy and Government Spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, recalled that the president was "crystal clear" when he stated that "the Government of Spain will not skimp on the necessary resources, as it has done so far, to combat the virus".

For this reason, she reiterated that more human and financial resources will be provided to primary care, including the support of the Armed Forces. Specifically, an additional seven billion euros will be allocated to the Health Services of the regional governments and 300 million euros to the Primary Care Plan. Regular meetings will also be held to analyse the evolution of the situation and to decide on complementary measures, if necessary.

Rodríguez reaffirmed the Government's commitment to the regional governments and their decisions: "They know their territories, they know their strengths, they know their health systems".

In addition, the government spokesperson insisted that the public should continue to "exercise caution and serenity" and called for the application of the experience acquired, both collective and personal, to combat the virus.

Pension increase in 2022

The Royal Decree-Law approved today incorporates a technical amendment to the revaluation of pensions in accordance with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), as approved yesterday in the Spanish Parliament. Specifically, the spokesperson explained, contributory pensions will rise by 2.5% next year and minimum and non-contributory pensions by 3.4%.

Current Affairs

With regard to the upwards revision of GDP growth in the third quarter, to 2.6%, made public by the INE, Rodríguez pointed out that, rather than forecasts, whether positive or negative, the Executive prefers to talk about facts: "These are very positive in terms of employment generation and social security affiliation and also on income. With these certainties, the Government is working and expects the coming year to be an important one for economic recovery, just transition and the roll out of recovery and transformation funds".

Non official translation