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Outdoor facemasks set to be withdrawn


In a curious "about-face" it seems "compulsory" facemasks outdoors are set to be withdrawn barely a week after they were confirmed in law


The outdoor facemask mandate in Spain has experienced a curious turn around in the past week. After the Royal decree was issued on December 23rd to mandate outdoor masks, it was clear there was a degree of uncertainty over the extent of the order. Face masks were not compulsory if you are doing exercise; in 'natural spaces', mountains or the beach; walking alone or with members of your household, or able to maintain 1.5 metres distance to others. Then in mid January several legal experts explained that a law made by decree could only remain in force for 31 days without legislative confirmation by the Congress. This effectively meant the mandate expired on 23rd of January.


Despite claims that this was fake news or inaccurate, unsurprisingly the government presented a law for the congress to pass on Tuesday 01 Feb. This enshrined the outdoor mask mandate in law, effectively making the requirement a standing law of the country and not merely an emergency measure. Therefore in the future the measure can be reintroduced without consultation of Parliament. There was significant criticism of this decision, especially as it was offered for a vote packaged with an increase to the state pension, levelling accusations of political blackmail.


Of the many voices of deep criticism, EH Bildu actually abstained on the vote, calling this the last time they would allow such political blackmail. Health spokesman for the party, Iñaki Ruiz de Pinedo, called for the need to apply effective measures, pointing out the lack of scientific evidence supporting the government mask measure. "There is practically unanimous scientific consensus: it does not serve to reduce infections."


Then abruptly, the government have started to not only peddle back on the rhetoric but also announce a process to end the mandate as soon as next Wednesday. Health Minister Carolina Darias stated the mask mandate was "strictly temporary" but then went on to explain that the peak of the latest 'wave' had passed and to the surprise of many set out the procedure for withdrawing the mask mandate. In an interview with radio station Cadena Ser she stated "the mask has fulfilled the role that we are clear it had to fulfil" and explained the proposal to remove the mask mandate will be proposed to the Interterritorial Health Council on Monday 10 Feb before being moved on to the Council of Ministers the next day. The measure would be approved by the publication of the Official State Bulletin (BOE) on the Wednesday and come into force immediately.


In Aragón the Regional Health Minister Sira Repollés confirmed the end of opening hour restrictions and rolling back COVID pass restrictions to hospitals and elderly residences as Aragonese president Javier Lambán spoke in favour of abolishing the mask mandate.


This all happens against the backdrop of an embarrassing week for Spanish politics. Widespread criticism and ridicule as a law on labour reform passed courtesy of a voting error made by a Partido Popular opposition member. The chamber descended into scenes of farce and commentators had withering words for the politicians. Removing masks could see the government save face as we al get to show face once again.



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