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Spain will make it compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors again in a bid to contain the fast spreading Omicron variant amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.

With nearly 80 per cent of its population vaccinated and a booster programme gathering pace, Spain was largely spared the rampant wave of infections that led several northern European countries to toughen restrictions in the autumn. 

But the recent arrival of Omicron has sent numbers rocketing, with a record of around 60,000 new infections on Wednesday, though hospital admissions and intensive-care cases remain fairly low compared to previous COVID-19 waves.  

Sanchez’s cabinet will hold a special meeting Thursday to approve a law by decree – which does not require a debate or vote in Parliament – that will make it mandatory to wear masks outside from Christmas Eve. 

Spain will make it compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors again in a bid to contain the fast spreading Omicron variant amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases

Spain will make it compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors again in a bid to contain the fast spreading Omicron variant amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases

Spain will make it compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors again in a bid to contain the fast spreading Omicron variant amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases

Mandatory outdoor mask-wearing is again set to take force on Christmas Eve, Pictured: People wearing face masks enjoy the Christmas lights in downtown Madrid, Spain on Wednesday

Mandatory outdoor mask-wearing is again set to take force on Christmas Eve, Pictured: People wearing face masks enjoy the Christmas lights in downtown Madrid, Spain on Wednesday

Mandatory outdoor mask-wearing is again set to take force on Christmas Eve, Pictured: People wearing face masks enjoy the Christmas lights in downtown Madrid, Spain on Wednesday

The Prime Minister 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.

Sanchez said he is targeting 80 per cent of the 60-69 age group to have received booster shots by the end of next week.   

Some experts and opposition parties have criticised Sanchez for not reimposing restrictions on movement to due the spread of Omicron, as other European countries such as Portugal or the Netherlands have done, but he rejected this.

‘This is not March 2020 or Christmas 2020,’ said Sanchez, citing the high vaccination rate of the Spanish population in contrast with those earlier stages of the pandemic when vaccines were not available.

Indoor mask-wearing was already mandatory in Spain and many Spaniards choose to cover their faces outdoors too, although the legal obligation to do so was dropped in June. 

But mandatory outdoor mask-wearing is again set to take force on Christmas Eve. 

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's cabinet will hold a special meeting Thursday to approve a law by decree - which does not require a debate or vote in Parliament - that will make it mandatory to wear masks outside from Christmas Eve

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's cabinet will hold a special meeting Thursday to approve a law by decree - which does not require a debate or vote in Parliament - that will make it mandatory to wear masks outside from Christmas Eve

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet will hold a special meeting Thursday to approve a law by decree – which does not require a debate or vote in Parliament – that will make it mandatory to wear masks outside from Christmas Eve

However, Sanchez said there would be numerous exceptions, such as when people are in open spaces with live-in relatives.

The Premier announced the measures at a meeting on Wednesday with the leaders of regional governments after they appealed to him to enforce national measures to stem the spread of the virus. 

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 strain has soared from 5 per cent of new cases in Spain to 47 per cent within one week.

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

People walk along a commercial street in downtown Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday

People walk along a commercial street in downtown Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday

People walk along a commercial street in downtown Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday

Sanchez told the Spanish parliament that 90 per cent of the target population aged 12 and over is fully vaccinated.

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

Sanchez’s administration also plans to loosen rules on the type of home-testing kits pharmacies can sell and earmark 292 million euros (£247 million) to beef up the struggling primary-care sector, the government said in a statement.

Spain’s regions are responsible for their healthcare systems and have the power to limit indoor capacity and business hours, but most have made only non-binding recommendations to citizens.

Stark political differences between the regions complicate any broader agreement on concrete restrictions and mean local approaches to curbing infection vary widely.     

Sanchez called Wednesday’s meeting to try to coordinate the response to the surge in infections ahead of the Christmas break.

The northeastern region of Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, is poised to be the first Spanish region reinstate a nighly curfew.

It has asked the courts to authorise a series of restrictions, including a nighly 1-6 am curfew, the closure of nightclubs and limiting capacity at gyms, restaurants and theatres, from December 24 and lasting 15 days.

In the Madrid region however, the conservative government had pledged to keep the hospitality sector open over the holidays. 

Source: Daily Mail UK

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