They started out being mandatory only on public transport and now it will be one of the few places where they remain: masks, a visible shield against covid and the object, or one of them, of discord in the pandemic, are about to disappear from most interiors.
Tomorrow, the Council of Ministers will approve a royal decree that will eliminate, as of Wednesday, the imposition of face masks in closed spaces, except for health centers, services and establishments, including pharmacies, and public transport.
In the works, the companies will decide. Outside of that, the health authorities will establish a series of recommended uses that will not be part of the decree, as the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, advanced a few weeks ago.
Surgical, hygienic, FFP1, FFP2 and FPP3, disposable or reusable, washable, plain, printed, embroidered and even compostable… Masks have been installed in our lives for two years and at the epicenter of the debate.
Debate that began at the beginning: the global shortage at the dawn of the pandemic pushed Health to rule out their mandatory nature and only recommend them in a few cases for sick people, with symptoms or suspected of being infected.
“It is not necessary among the healthy population,” repeated Dr. Fernando Simón in March 2020 in his daily appearances at a press conference; The Government “is not going to demand anything that cannot be fulfilled” and, if it goes on to demand it, “it will always be counting on the fact that there is capacity to execute that measure”, said the then Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, at the beginning of April .
But the voices for making them mandatory in public spaces were rising more and more, so on May 4, the day that phase 0 of the de-escalation began throughout Spain, the first of them, the Executive imposed them on public transport, where he had been distributing them for free for days. Then, they had already ceased to be a practically luxury good: on April 21, Health had set a maximum price of 0.96 for surgeries to avoid abuse.
A mandatory in all public spaces
From “highly recommended” on public roads and necessary when it was not possible to keep two meters away, they became mandatory on May 21 “on public roads, in outdoor spaces and in any closed space for public or open use.” to the public, provided that it is not possible to maintain an interpersonal safety distance of at least two meters,” read the BOE.
Meanwhile, Spain continued to move towards the new normality in the unbridled race for de-escalation; but the opening inevitably brought the first outbreaks, and the communities’ fear of a new wave in the middle of the summer campaign led them to gradually tighten the regulations, but not all in the same way. This is how the summer of 2020 will not be remembered in the same way by those who had to put on the mask on the beach, all the way to the shore, and those who did not have to, depending on where they were.
The second wave that lasted until the fall ended up homogenizing the use of face masks indoors and outdoors, regardless of the distance, although the May order was still in force.
A new change, but outdated
The new regulatory change came in March 2021, when the population was taking a breather again after the violent wave of Christmas. That is why it came as a surprise that, with infections in free fall, the mask became mandatory outdoors, even when interpersonal distance could be respected. The new law, the result of parliamentary work from the royal decree of new normality of June 2020, introduced this imposition because during its parliamentary process in the Senate, an amendment by the PSOE made it mandatory even with the safety distance.
“On public roads, in outdoor spaces and in any closed space for public use or that is open to the public” is how the rule was finally drafted, which gave rise to a cascade of different interpretations by the communities.
Some stopped requiring it on beaches and natural spaces for those who went alone or with cohabitants but forced its use in social gatherings in those places, as was the Balearic Islands; others like Andalusia repeated the formula of the previous summer, so that you had to put it on by the shore but not to be in the umbrella in groups of less than 6 people. Until on June 24 an extraordinary Council of Ministers lifted the obligation if there was a distance.
Back outside… and back outside
It lasted six months: ómicron gave rise to the central and regional governments, prior agreement of the Conference of Presidents, to return the mandatory nature of outdoor masks on December 23, and this despite the fact that the scientific community flatly rejected the effectiveness of this measure to contain the contagious virulence of the new variant.
The text was validated a month later in Congress; The controversy was fueled again, because the reticence about a cosmetic measure was joined by the fact that it was included in the decree that updated the so-called “paguilla” for pensioners.
All this so that, not even a week later, the Interterritorial Council came up with a new agreement by which, as of February 9, it was no longer necessary to wear the mask outdoors except at mass events in which you are standing or when there is no safety distance if you were sitting.
the penultimate chapter
As of Wednesday, it will not have to be worn in most interiors either; While waiting to know the definitive text, the last details of which are still being polished, it will only be necessary to put it in “those spaces in which there may be people with vulnerability”, as Carolina Darias has been reiterating.
That is to say, workers and visitors of assistance and social health centers -especially, residences for the elderly-, but not residents and in transport, while in other places it will be a “responsible use recommendation, especially when there are crowds and when it comes to vulnerable people”.
Students will no longer have to use it in the school environment, although teachers with vulnerability factors are recommended to wear it, as well as other people with these same conditions in which they cannot maintain 1.5 meters of interpersonal distance. .
In the workplace, it will be the occupational risk prevention services that value it, although the paper advises wearing it when the interpersonal distance is less than 1.5 meters and adequate ventilation cannot be guaranteed.
Likewise, in other closed spaces for public use such as shops, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, museums, bars, restaurants or nightlife venues, among others, what they recommend is “responsible use”, as in the environment family, gatherings of friends and private celebrations. Will there be more changes?
The Government does not rule it out, and even some advisers are already talking about the opportunity to resume it in winter. But, for now, on April 20, whoever wants to remove the mask, he will be able to do so. And whoever wants to continue wearing it, too.