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NEWS

Spanish regions reintroduce mask wearing in medical centres amid flu spike

MADRID (Reuters) – Five Spanish regions have announced the reintroduction of rules making the use of face masks compulsory in health facilities following a spike in flu and COVID-19 cases over the festive season.

The region of Valencia saw its rate of respiratory infections rise to 1,501 cases per 100,000 inhabitants between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 – the second-highest reported caseload in the country for that week, after Castilla-La Mancha.

Health chiefs in Valencia instructed people with symptoms, as well as medical professionals, and family and friends in waiting rooms to wear masks for the foreseeable future.

It also left the door open to the rule being extended to other areas where people with vulnerable health gather.

Neighbouring Catalonia also mandated mask use in health centres, while Aragon to its north issued the same instruction, adding that it “highly recommended” workers and citizens as a whole to use masks in public places especially in confined spaces.

Murcia on the southeastern coast has also introduced a mask requirement while northwestern Galicia has recommended mask use.

Spain was among the last European countries to drop requirements to wear face masks following the COVID-19 pandemic, with people told to wear them on public transport until February last year and in health centres and pharmacies until July.

According to the latest epidemiological report by Spain’s Carlos III University Health Institute, flu, COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are circulating widely in communities, with flu most prevalent, and babies and the elderly most likely to be hospitalised.

In the last week of December, 953 cases per 100,000 inhabitants were presenting at primary healthcare centres around the country with acute respiratory illness, compared to 922 the week before, while hospitalisation rates showed a steeper upwards increase than last year.

Spain’s association of GPs has called for mask wearing to be made mandatory in health centres across the country. The health minister has called a meeting of regional health authorities and, according to local media, will propose introducing mandatory rules across the country next week.

 

(Reporting by Joan Faus and Aislinn Laing; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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