Tuesday, July 5

Goodbye to the mask on the street: the challenges of the end of a stricter measure in Spain than in many other countries

The Government has finally set a date for the end of the use of outdoor masks as prevention against COVID-19. It will be on June 26, 2021. The Ministry of Health and the autonomous communities had been debating this issue for weeks, with very advanced negotiations and broad consensus, and the public waiting for a date. A modification of the royal decree of new normality is necessary, which includes the obligation to wear masks at all times. In order for the rule change to be ready on Saturday, June 26, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, has convened an extraordinary Council of Ministers next Thursday, June 24. “This [el del 19 de junio] It will be the last weekend with a mask in the open air, “the president announced.

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The mask has been the symbol of the COVID-19 crisis in Europe and America, societies not used to it. On Thursday, May 21, 2020, masks were made mandatory in Spain, through a ministerial order published in the BOE. It was, in principle, while the state of alarm lasted, but susceptible to lengthening, as it was, with the royal decree of new normality. The regulations in Spain have been the strictest in the European Union and many other countries affected by the disease. The obligation to carry it on the street began last summer when several communities decreed it this way for all cases, whether or not there was distance outdoors, because they had the competence to do so. The exceptions were limited to when it was eaten or drank. The last to incorporate it were Madrid and the Canary Islands. By the end of July it was already imposed throughout the territory. And no Community lifted that measure while they were competent. Then came the state regulations.

In our environment, practically only Italy and France had similar rules of use at almost all times in public places, including outdoors. In Italy it has been like this since October. Until then, when the second wave started there, it was only so in closed spaces and in some particularly hit regions, such as Lazio. In France it began to be in summer, first in some large cities. In that country, it was no longer mandatory on the street this Thursday. They will remain in public transport, stadiums and places with crowds. In Italy, the calendar is later than that of Spain: the Government plans to withdraw them as of July 15. Both France and Italy have a vaccination rate slightly slower than that of Spain: in France 22.6% are fully vaccinated and in Italy 24.2%. And neither of the two have their elders covered 100% (France, only 77% of those over 80). In the city of Brussels there was also a strict rule on the use of masks outside, which it was not extended to all of Belgium and that was relaxed on June 7. In Greece they also continue with the obligation outdoors.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recommended in its April 21 update that the use of a mask and social distance between people with a complete vaccination schedule are “relaxed”. In countries such as Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Portugal and the United Kingdom, masks were no longer mandatory abroad, except for crowded streets and other similar situations; they were generally in shops, vehicles and indoor public spaces. Neither in the UK; With their de-escalation, they are still mandatory in transport, shops or cinema, but not outdoors. In Portugal, only when the distance could not be maintained, and it will remain that way until the end of the summer, as announced by its president.

Outside of Europe, policies have been mixed between countries that were not used to using this product. In Argentina, for example, they were similar to that of Spain: since May 2020, mandatory outdoors. In Australia, which due to its insular characteristics have been able to follow the ‘COVID 0’ strategy, they have never been, even indoors. Israel did have a rigid rule on the outdoor use of masks that was relaxed on April 18, when they had 57.2% of the population with a full guideline: from that day on they are no longer compulsory on the streets and are only for indoor use.

In the US, it depended on the states, and in fact, during the Donald Trump administration, it was a political matter who imposed it before and who did not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) They recommended a few weeks ago that fully vaccinated people could not use it both indoors and outdoors. And they also recommended (they have no authority to dictate regulations) that unvaccinated people could walk without this protection. The state of New York decided on May 19 that masks could not be used in public spaces, except on public transportation, in schools and some other places. However, it authorizes businesses to request its use, since a good part of its population is not vaccinated and it is difficult to know the status of everyone.

Without detailing the new rule

Although it seems that we have always used the masks in the same way, between May and June 2020, they were not mandatory on the street. Only if the two meter distance could not be guaranteed. Use is relaxed in Spain with 47.3% of the population with at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 28.8% with the full regimen, and 100% of those over 70 years of age , those most at risk of severe COVID, covered. Also with cumulative incidence levels similar to those of August 2020 (92 cases per 100,000 inhabitants), and with the lethality of the virus hitting bottom. And in the week in which the Government hopes to reach 15 million fully immunized people.

Many experts agree that it is an appropriate moment, although there is still a transition in which pedagogy will have to be done. “Distances are still important, in many spaces you have to continue using them. Although it is time, you have to work on those nuances about when to keep them, that people know what to expect and not confuse them more, and that is what It has surely delayed it. The message to send is that it is not the end of the pandemic, nor of the masks “, explained from the Spanish Society of Public Health (SESPAS), one of the platforms in constant conversations with Health.

Pedro Sánchez has not given details about how the new regulations will remain, but at no time is it on the table to eliminate its use in Spain in the interiors in the short term. We will have to keep wearing the mask to enter any closed public place. The public health challenge is that the public does not understand after the relaxation of this rule that the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, and that this element of prevention is continued to be used in recommended contexts, or even longer in the long term in places such as public transport to avoid, apart from the coronavirus, other respiratory infections.

In March 2021, an amendment by the PSOE modified the new normal rule in the Senate, to make it mandatory in a unified way at all times and decide what the community decides. The Interterritorial Health Council relaxed it, but only for the beach and a few other situations. And it is now, on June 26, 2021, when it will return to something similar to the use of the starting point.

For now, there are no conclusions about whether one strategy has been more successful than another: use it only where necessary, or accustom citizens to use it regularly. Experts, including Fernando Simón himself, agree that the use of masks in open spaces has never been entirely effective per se, because a contagion with distance in the open air is very difficult. The administrations were inclined to do so so that, when in doubt, citizens get used to using it at all times. “It was necessary to accustom the population and it was used to justify it,” recalled Juan Ayllón, director of the Public Health Area of ​​the University of Burgos, “and I did not believe much that it would work, I have never been a fan of masks. on the street. But there was still some reason. Over time, yes, people have been seen who only take it down to eat, there are some who use it well. It is still very difficult to determine. Over the years, studies will be done “.