Spain opens debate on face masks in public transport

by Lorraine Williamson
face masks public transport

MADRID – Although the virus is still around, Covid has moved a bit into the background of life. In Spain, we only think about it when we get on public transport, enter a pharmacy or a hospital, where we still have to wear face masks. 

Guillermo Díaz of the political party Ciudadanos wanted to know from the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, whether the mask is still necessary for those places in Spanish society. Darías again referred to the experts for an answer to this question. 

Health is waiting for the experts’ proposal to decide whether it will. Díaz then listed some twenty countries that have already abolished the mandatory use of it on public transport, such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, France, Slovenia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Malta and Croatia. 

The politician recalled a statement by Justice Minister Pilar Llop on Tuesday. She stated that the government is “the guarantor of freedom and not the guardian of people”. Then Guillermo Díaz told of an experience he had in June: “I left home without a mask, got in a taxi and put it on, went to the airport and took it off, got on the plane and put it back on, I went to an Iron Maiden concert with 50,000 other people without masks, then I went to a bar with some fans without masks and then I took a taxi with the windows rolled down with a mask on, Millions of Spaniards live in this absurd situation” he condemned. 

A decision outside of the experts? 

Carolina Darias was forceful in her response. She again insisted that “when we have a proposal from the experts advising the Ministry of Health, we will be able to assess this measure.” She also reminded Díaz that “we are now in a good epidemiological situation, not because of the management that citizens have done, anyway, but because of the policy of the government in cooperation with the autonomous communities.” 

“Spain is a reference country” in terms of pandemic management 

Darias also recalled that Spain is “an analogue country” in terms of managing the pandemic, as recognised by international organisations such as the WHO. “This government will continue to be guided by the recommendations of the experts who use a mask when there is a high concentration of people in a place without adequate ventilation and during long journeys. You are asking me to decide without listening to the experts ?” Darias told Diaz. 

What do the experts say? 

Experts agree that we are now experiencing the least risky moment of the pandemic in Spain; For this reason, some believe that the mask can be left at home without serious consequences, while others think it should wait a little longer. Epidemiologist Salvador Peiró thinks nothing will happen if the obligation is lifted because the situation of the pandemic is very good, there are fewer Covid patients than ever in hospitals and the pressure on primary care in this regard is very low. Peiró does think that the face mask should remain recommended for the elderly and vulnerable. 

CSIC researcher Sonia Zúñiga advocates caution and believes it is better to keep the mask on public transport in autumn and winter to help prevent another resurgence of Covid and better fight the flu and other respiratory infections. 

The vast majority of European countries have removed the mandatory mask from public transport. Spain is one of the few that still maintains it, along with Germany, Italy, Austria and Cyprus.

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