Updated 19 July: Tenerife’s Tourism Chief has added to the Canarian Government’s call for responsibility by warning the tourism sector and the public that the island’s image as a safe destination depends on their compliance with health measures put in place for everyone’s safety. José Gregorio Martín Plata reiterated President Torres’ theme and said that failure to comply with physical distancing of 1.5m and wearing face masks would be a mistake and result in “un retroceso muy duro” – a very hard step backwards.
Martín Plata said that a failure in any of the links, whether accommodation, leisure activities, venues, restaurants and bars, and so on would be devastating for a sector that’s doing its best right now to recover. As Torres himself said yesterday, any further lockdown won’t have the safety net of financial and social assistance that was available to many in the Canaries both during the lockdown and the subsequent de-escalation phases.
It’s not the Cabildo’s function to police compliance, Martín Plata said, but advised the public that there are authorities to which you can go if you see any establishments or individuals involved in obvious irregularities. The majority are compliant, he said, but we have to keep trying to get through to those who haven’t internalized the safety message and the need to obey the rules. “We can only keep our island safe as a holiday destination if we work together”, he stressed, adding that a recent study carried out by Tenerife Turismo in the UK, Germany and Spain itself showed that 63% of visitors would only consider going somewhere on holiday if safety measures were in place, and 25% would not even consider going anywhere that didn’t require face masks to be worn.
Many will be familiar with the UKTV programme Deal or No Deal. We had the same here, it was called ¡Allá tú! It means something like It’s Up to You …
Updated 18 July: When President Torres called the other day for everyone to behave responsibly and abide by measures imposed for everyone’s safety during the covid19 outbreak, he wasn’t just asking …
As usual, the public is given a few days to assimilate the “request”, and from today, police will be enforcing it. If you consider yourself lucky to find a bar where physical distancing isn’t enforced, or are inclined to mock the dancing prohibition imposed to prevent people getting sweaty and breathing more heavily and so expelling respiratory particles that could spread the virus, well think again because such “luck” has just run out. Police have now started closing bars, fining owners and tenants for non-compliance, and dealing with the public in their inimitable way when things turn nasty.
They will continue in this vein until it is perceived to be unnecessary, whenever that might be. The simple fact is that despite a call for public responsibility, it has been amply demonstrated that some can’t or won’t behave in a socially acceptable way in a public health emergency. President Torres yesterday said that the enforcement that will be in place from now on is inevitable because these islands can’t afford another lockdown. He will do it, if he has to, he has been crystal clear on that, but he acknowledges that if that becomes necessary, there will be no future help for those who’ve benefited this time round from rent assistance, mortgage holidays, temporary redundancy payments, and so on.
The social and economic effects, said the President, will be “dramatic”. Some might therefore feel that enforcement, however much resented, is better than a dramatic lockdown with no safety net. Those who don’t share that view might yet get the chance to test their theory.
Updated 16 July: Canarian President Ángel Torres has said that the public must be responsible or these islands will find themselves back in a lockdown phase. For the moment, it seems, we are not to have compulsory face masks at all times in public but Torres was quite clear: either the public does what’s required or we will face the consequences, which he acknowledged would be severe in both economic and social terms. Spain already has one area prioritizing public health protection over tourism policy: the Balearic Islands Government has closed the Magaluf Strip because tourists, primarily British, have displayed an inability or unwillingness to comply with any rules that impinge on their enjoyment, regardless of health risks to others. Torres said this selfishness will not be tolerated in the Canaries and that he would not hesitate to take us back into a lockdown phase unless it is clear that residents and visitors alike will behave in a socially responsible way and comply with mask and physical distancing regulations as they are presently.
Updated 6pm, 13/7: The Canarian Government has confirmed today to the Spanish Interterritorial Health Council that it is considering the best ways to strengthen the obligation to wear face masks and will decide in regional Government Cabinet on Thursday exactly what measures will be announced. Sanidad (Canaries) says that it is already working on a proposal for measures adapted to the situation in the archipelago bearing in mind the spikes of the covid19 outbreak that have been registered recently in areas throughout Spain, and the responses of other regional Governments. We will know more, clearly, on Thursday or Friday this week.
Updated 12 July: Joining Catalonia, Extremadura, the Balearic Islands, and Andalusia in making face masks compulsory at all times in public are now Aragon, La Rioja, and Murcia. Navarre, Cantabria and Asturias are planning to follow in the near future, while the Basque Country has some areas where masks are compulsory and the measure is likely to be extended to the whole region shortly. In Galicia, much affected by local outbreaks, regulations have been toughened so that in affected areas masks are compulsory at all times while in other areas they must be worn outdoors wherever a 1.5m physical distancing can’t be observed but indoors at all times regardless of distancing. Spain has 17 autonomous regions and so well over half of them have now either imposed the measure or are about to do so. There are also two autonomous cities in north Africa – Ceuta and Melilla – and I understand that Ceuta too has introduced the requirement.
Updated 11 July: Andalusia has announced that it too will be imposing compulsory face masks at all times in public from next week. The measure means that there are now four autonomous regions of Spain which have the requirement, as Catalonia, Extremadura, and the Balearic Islands have already announced that face masks are compulsory outside the home. The Andalusian decision is openly acknowledged to be because residents are fearful of visitors who have demonstrated in tourist hotspots in southern Spain that they simply do not know how to comply with safety measures or refuse point blank to do so. The measures are therefore an attempt to reassure residents who are turismofobic, as the fear is now openly being called, that they can be kept safe from risk as tourists return. How effective that reassurance will be remains to be seen but, for the moment, the regional Government is trying to triangulate making them feel safer, actually be safer, and not damage tourism. The message is clear, nonetheless: Spain’s regions are increasingly making safety and avoidance of a second wave a priority even over their bread and butter.
Updated 10 July: Since there is fevered misinformation doing the rounds …
Healthcare is a devolved power in Spain. It means that the regional Governments are in control of health provision and policy. During the estado de alarma, the national Government in Madrid appropriated control of the nation’s response to covid19 and when the state of emergency was lifted powers for healthcare were restored to regional Governments. And so, the regional governments in some areas of Spain have now made face masks compulsory in all public spaces at all times – even when physical distancing of 1.5m rules can be respected. These areas are presently Catalonia, Extremadura, and the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera).
The measures do not at present apply anywhere other than those regions because they are imposed by the regional health authorities not the national Government. As I’ve explained previously, regional Governments can modify national law as long as the measures do not undermine or negate national legislation: in other words regions can impose locally stricter rules than are applicable under national law. If any such rules were ever to be applicable in the Canaries they would need to be imposed by the Canarian Government … or be a national measure imposed throughout Spain by the national Government.
As a matter of fact, such a measure is feasible because national Health Secretary Salvador Illa is looking into the matter, and has said he won’t rule it out. That is all that can be said so far but it seems to me self-evident that the authorities are reviewing the whole issue given recent fresh outbreaks of covid19 in parts of Spain, the WHO’s reconsideration of how airborne the SARS-CoV-2 virus actually is, and the Oxford study (below) showing that face masks are effective … as well as the complete discrediting of conspiracy theories suggesting face masks are dangerous to wear.
It is therefore possible that the measure will be imposed here but for the moment it is not. In the Canaries at present face masks are compulsory at all times on public transport or in vehicles shared with those of different households, and in any public space indoors or out in which a 1.5m physical distance cannot be maintained.
Updated 9 July: Clio O’Flynn and I have been promoting their use for weeks and now a comprehensive Oxford University study shows that face masks work. We have no reason now to go about without one … and Clio and I also talk about this in today’s podcast, a link for which will go in its separate post shortly. For now, HERE is that study.
Original post 16 June: Canarias Saludable, the Canarian Health Department’s channel for public health information and advice, has confirmed that the public can wear home-made face masks but only if they comply with the specifications of those which are bought in chemists. For those who wish to make their own, those specifications, for each type of mask, are HERE.
Canarias Saludable says that “scarves and facecloths do not protect against covid19, and that more information in general about masks, apart from the specific criteria for their manufacture, can be consulted HERE. For any further public health information please see their website which is canariasaludable.org.
For those who wish to buy face masks that are guaranteed to comply with specifications, the image below shows the three main types available. The first is a simple hygienic mask, the sort we should wear if healthy and not working frontline or in the health services. The second is a surgical mask to be worn by anyone displaying symptoms or their close contacts – all these should also be self-isolating and seeking medical confirmation of their infection. The third is an auto-filter mask to be worn by health professionals and frontline workers.