Thursday, December 7

Health proposes to decree the end of indoor masks at Easter

The ministry studies ending the obligation on April 12 if the technicians endorse the measure

Alvaro Soto

“Soon”, “very soon”, “sooner than later” or the most innovative “there is one day less”, pronounced on Friday by Carolina Darias, are the formulas repeated by the Government ministers, and especially, the head of Health, if journalists ask them when the end of indoor masks will be decreed. On February 21, President Pedro Sánchez spoke for the first time about the withdrawal of the last restriction of the pandemic, but almost a month and a half later, the worsening of the epidemiological situation has slowed down the plans of the Executive, who dreamed of a spring or at the latest, with a Holy Week, without this element of protection in covered places. The deadlines, now, are in the air, but the pressure is increasing, from the opposition parties and from some autonomous communities, to end, this time yes, soon, with the masks indoors.

If Spain has been a pioneer in the process of ‘influenza’ surveillance of covid-19, in the removal of the masks the technicians of the Ministry of Health seem to opt for extreme prudence. In principle, the Interterritorial Health Council this Wednesday, which will be held in Toledo, is not going to debate the measure, although a change in the agenda of the meeting is not ruled out and several communities have already warned that they will demand that Health take this decision now. But Darias’ department manages its own calendar and has a date marked in red: April 12, Holy Tuesday. That day will be two weeks since the start of the “flu” and the effects of the new surveillance on hospitalizations will begin to be seen, the indicator that since last Monday marks the decisions of the Ministry. The Alerts Conference plans to prepare a document on the country’s epidemiological situation for that day. If the conclusions are positive, the decision could be made quickly, although for now, the updates published by Health, which are less and less exhaustive, do not offer excessive reasons for optimism.

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In last Tuesday’s report, the last complete one of the pandemic, the accumulated incidence rose to 466.51 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, nine times more than the 50 cases that the Government considers as a marker of the new normality. In Friday’s update, the incidence in people over 60 years of age (the only one that is going to be measured now) stood at 459.27 cases and although some markers, such as the seven-day incidence, point to a drop, this decrease it won’t be fast enough to get to Easter at low risk levels. In contrast, the situation in hospitals is good, with only 3.34% of ward beds and 4.62% of ICUs occupied by covid patients.

From the political side, the government is under increasing pressure. Congress approved on Thursday a motion agreed by Citizens with the PSOE that urges the Executive to abolish the mandatory use of masks indoors, yes, on the condition that the measure has the endorsement of the scientific community and the health authorities. Vox, which demands the end of the masks now, voted in favor, and the PP positioned itself against it, although its new leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has been, in the Xunta de Galicia, one of the regional presidents who have imposed the most restrictions. supported during the pandemic. In the autonomies, the debate on masks causes a deep division, exemplified in two communities governed by the PP. Andalusia is in favor of maintaining this restriction while Madrid advocates eliminating the obligation.

And all this occurs while public health experts call for caution. “There is no need to set a date on the end of indoor masks, we must analyze the data, and what we have, right now, tells us that the incidence among the most vulnerable, those over 80 years of age, is rising,” says Joan Carles March, professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health. In addition, March explains that Spain must prepare in other ways to remove masks indoors, “extending the use of CO2 meters and HEPA filters.”

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