Coronavirus: Spain to require face masks outdoors again, says govt

Spain ended mandatory outdoor mask use in late June. PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (AFP) - Spain will reimpose a nationwide rule requiring the use of face masks outdoors, the government said Wednesday (Dec 22), as the country grapples with a spike in Covid-19 infections.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's cabinet will hold a meeting on Thursday to approve the decree making the use of masks outdoors mandatory, the government said in a statement without specifying when the rule will come into force.

Spain ended mandatory outdoor mask use in late June, while still requiring them indoors in public spaces or in crowded outdoor spaces where social distancing was impossible.

The announcement comes as Sanchez was meeting with regional leaders to discuss ways to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant which was first identified in southern Africa late last month.

With around 80 per cent of its population of 47 million people vaccinated, Spain had until recently avoided the surge in infections seen elsewhere in Europe which led to tighter rules.

But the arrival of Omicron has fuelled infections, with a record of nearly 50,000 new cases recorded on Tuesday, although hospital admissions and ICU occupancy remain fairly low compared to previous Covid-19 waves.

Spain's coronavirus infection rate rose above 500 cases per 100,000 people on Friday, crossing over the threshold considered "very high risk" by the health ministry and more than doubling since the start of December. It stood at 695 cases per 100,000 on Tuesday.

Omicron accounts for around 47 per cent of total Covid-19 infections in Spain, according to official data released Tuesday, up from just 3.0 per cent the week before.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.