MADRID (AP) — Spain took another step toward a sense of normalcy on Wednesday amid the pandemic by partially ending the mandatory use of masks indoors for nearly two years.
The government decree, adopted on Tuesday, keeps masks compulsory for visitors and staff at medical centers and nursing homes, although patients are not always required to wear them.
Masks will also be compulsory on all forms of public transport, but not at train stations or airports.
It remains unclear what impact the decree will have on workplaces such as offices of public and private companies, banks, factories and shops, as the government leaves employers to decide whether to keep them if they feel that there is a health risk.
In turn, they are recommended, but not required, in crowded gatherings, in crowded areas or in the presence of vulnerable people. Schools are also exempt from using them.
Masks became mandatory indoors and outdoors shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain in early 2020. The restriction on outdoor use was lifted in mid-2021, but reimposed between December and February amid a large wave of infections of the highly contagious omicron variant.
“The mask has undoubtedly been one of the most identifiable measures of the past two years and it will no longer be mandatory,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Tuesday. “They will continue to be with us as an element of protection, especially for the most vulnerable.”
With more than 92% of Spaniards over the age of 12 having received at least two doses of the vaccine and the number of coronavirus infections and deaths falling sharply in recent months, Spain has also abolished compulsory isolation at home. for people infected with the virus who have no or mild symptoms.
The ebb of the pandemic comes as Spanish prosecutors turn their attention to possible illegalities in the purchase of masks and other medical products by authorities during the critical first months of the outbreak.
Two of the most important cases relate to the region of Madrid and the town hall of the capital.
State prosecutors are investigating two men who they say pocketed more than 6 million euros ($6.5 million) in commission by selling masks and other products to Madrid City Hall for exorbitant prices. Prosecutors say the two bought luxury cars, watches and even a yacht with the money.
Meanwhile, Spanish and European prosecutors have also been investigating the Madrid regional government’s purchase of masks as part of a deal brokered by regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso’s brother for a substantial commission.
In both cases, authorities say they acted in good faith during a national emergency and that it was extremely difficult to obtain these products at the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, analyzing the books of major Spanish cities and some major institutions during the first three months of the pandemic, the Spanish Court of Auditors found that there were often exorbitant differences in the prices paid for masks and others products.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.