LATEST: Catalonia delays lifting coronavirus restrictions amid worsening infection rates

The Spanish region of Catalonia will keep its current coronavirus restrictions in place and will not progress to more relaxed measures on Monday as originally planned, due to worsening infection rates, the regional government said on Thursday.

LATEST: Catalonia delays lifting coronavirus restrictions amid worsening infection rates
Restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen on November 23rd. Photo: AFP

The northeastern region was due to progress to de-escalation Phase Two and loosen restrictions on socializing and movement within the territory but regional Health Minister Alba Vergés announced on Thursday that Catalonia will stay in phase 1 for two more weeks until December 21st.

The downward trend in the Covid-19 infection rate – which saw the outbreak risk drop from 'very high' to 'high' category on Monday – appeared to have stalled according to the latest figures, prompting regional authorities to delay further reopening. 

Data revealed that the figures have begun to rise again, a week after bars, restaurants, cultural and sports venues began to reopen after more than a month of closure.

On Thursday, data showed that the Covid-19 transmission rate, also known as the R number, increased for the fifth day in a row, reaching 0.92 from 0.77 on Monday.

If the R number rises above 1 it means that each person who has tested positive to coronavirus will be spreading it on average to at least one other person.

Under Catalonia’s de-escalation plan designed to reopen the region after infections reached a second wave peak in early November, authorities said restrictions would  only be loosened to Phase 2 if the transmission rate dropped below R0.90

Vergés said in a press conference on Thursday that because data showed a “sharp change”, authorities were obliged to step up precautions.

Catalan public health secretary Josep Maria Argimon added that they had to avoid a spike in new infections “bringing the system to a standstill, turning hospitals into “Covid hospitals” like in the first wave.” 

Under Phase 2 of the de-escalation plan, the region’s borders would still be closed but the weekend confinement of residents to their own city limits would have been loosened to allow people to travel within county borders between Friday 6am and Monday 6am.

 It would also have seen shops increase occupancy from 30 percent to 50 percent and seen shopping centres reopen with a 30 percent limit.

Bars and restaurants would also see their capacity indoors grow from 30 percent to 50 percent.

Under Phase 2 such establishments would still have to close by 9.30pm as a curfew of between 10pm and 6am remains in place.

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Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spain’s Health Ministry has recommended Spaniards put their masks back on in indoor public settings, calling for "caution" as the seventh coronavirus wave sees cases and hospitalisations rise across the country.

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Friday recommended people wear face masks again in indoor public settings as Covid cases and hospitalisations in late June and early July returned to levels not seen since February 2022.

Darias called for “caution” and “responsible mask usage” at a time of increased travel in Spain and with many doctors and nurses booking off time for their summer holidays.

Similar sentiments about the return of face masks indoors have already been shared by the health authorities in some of Spain’s other regions, including Catalonia and Madrid. 

Catalan Health Minister Josep Maria Argimon recommended that those recovering from Covid should continue to wear a mask due to the increase in Covid patients admitted to the ICU in the region, which has increased from 26 to 46 in the space of three weeks.  

Madrid Vice President Enrique Ossorio also suggested that masks should be reintroduced in certain situations, due to the rise of cases seen in the region. Masks should be worn by “vulnerable people, those who are immunosuppressed and those who are pregnant,” he argued.

Ossorio also recommended that the use of face masks be extended to enclosed public spaces and large events.

After two years of compulsory usage in indoor public settings, Spanish authorities lifted the indoor face mask rule on April 20th, having already removed the requirement for outdoors on February 10th


Spain’s Health Minister also urged that those aged 80 and over should receive a fourth Covid vaccine dose, but has not specified when this will happen, even though this was already been approved in early June.   

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

“The Health Ministry is going to continue working hand in hand with the advice of experts who’ve introduced an exemplary vaccination strategy,” Darias explained.

On Friday July 1st, 10,249 people were in hospital with Covid-19 in Spain, a figure not seen since February 17th 2022. As for ICU admissions, there were 449 Covid patients in total.

Madrid currently has a fortnightly infection rate of 1,500 cases per 100,00 inhabitants for people aged 60 and over, as Spain stopped counting each and every Covid-19 cases last March and focused only on serious infections and those affecting the elderly. 

That’s why experts are referring to this seventh coronavirus wave as the “silent” one, with no way of truly knowing how many people are getting infected or reinfected in Spain. 

Darias said that the Covid situation is being monitored carefully and that rise in cases is mainly down to the new omicron sub-variants BA4 and BA5, which are more transmissible but are milder than previous variants.

The Minister added that the Spanish government has provided its regions with medicines that are “very important” in the treatment of Covid, such as the antiviral Paxlovid, of which 344,000 sets of pills have been purchased, which help prevent an infected person from developing a serious illness, as well as Evusheld to protect people who do not generate their own antibodies.