Face mask again mandatory in health centres in some Spanish regions

by Lorraine Williamson
mandatory face masks

Spain’s health ministry to consult on Monday 8 January regarding the return of the mandatory wearing of the face mask. Due to the increasing number of respiratory infections, some autonomous regions have already made the face mask compulsory in health centres and hospitals.  

Flu wave

With this winter’s flu epidemic, the face mask seems to be returning to the streets. Due to the high number of infections, Catalonia, Valencia and Murcia have reintroduced compulsory face masks in health centres, hospitals and nursing homes. On Monday, health minister Mónica García will propose introducing the measures nationwide.

The Spanish government had more legal powers during the pandemic, which are now limited to coordinating the measures. The actual authority for implementing the measure lies with the autonomous regions. However, the minister is seeking a national plan to be able to quickly anticipate high infection rates if necessary. Therefore, an additional consultation will take place on Monday.

Already compulsory in some regions

In Valencia, the compulsory use of masks in health centres and hospitals started last Friday. Catalonia has made it compulsory in health centres since Monday, but not in nursing homes. In Murcia, it is now mandatory. Aragón will make face masks compulsory for health staff, but not for the public. It recommends wearing the masks not only in health centres, but also in enclosed spaces where many people are together.

Valencia region

The Health Council of the Valencia region has sent out a statement to all health services with information on the measure. This region has the highest rate of respiratory virus infections in Spain. Valencia’s health minister, Marciano Gómez, announced that adults and children can get vaccinated against influenza and COVID from 8 January. They can go to a health centre to do so without an appointment. 

Catalonia

A few hours after Valencia, the Catalan councillor for health, Manel Balcells, announced on social network X that wearing a face mask is essential “due to the increase in respiratory viruses”. The measure is a response to the overload of health centres, which can barely cope with the number of patients. In Catalonia, the peak in the number of cases of illness is expected on Sunday and Monday, just after Epiphany.

ASSSA - health insurance in Spain

Madrid makes different choice

The autonomous regions of Madrid and Balearic Islands are refraining from mandatory measures for the time being. Councillor Ana Dávila of the Madrid region believes that citizens themselves know very well when to wear a mask. Madrid therefore speaks of a recommendation rather than an obligation. “At every health centre there is a visible sign recommending wearing a mouth mask in case of symptoms,” she said. Moreover, healthcare professionals wear an oral mask during periods of high infection.

The Balearic Islands, too, is yet to implement the mandatory measure.

Pressure on healthcare due to increase in infections

For healthcare staff, the outlook is not rosy. Due to the past holidays, culminating in Epiphany, the number of infections is expected to rise for a few more days. So health centres will remain busy for a while. Not only primary health care is under pressure, hospital emergency departments are also working overtime. So far, the departments can still cope with the pressure, but in In Valencia, care is under pressure because of high occupancy rates of hospital beds and because it is difficult to find enough staff.

Governments urge people not to rush to the doctor. There will be longer waiting times, which may cause discomfort, but the priorities are patients with more complex problems.

Also read: Flu empidemic paralyses health centres in Spain

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