Pensioners wearing protective face masks due to COVID-19 pandemic chat in Ronda, Spain
Spain will next week lift a requirement for people to wear masks outdoors as a measure against the coronavirus, extending a wider rollback of restrictions as the contagion slowly recedes in the country.
The cabinet plans to approve an end to mandatory outdoor mask wearing at its weekly meeting on Tuesday and make it effective two days later, Health Minister Carolina Darias told La SER radio station on Friday.
Mask wearing outdoors was reinstated in late December to curb the spread of the emergent Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
"We said it would last only while it was strictly necessary," Darias said. As contagion rates and other indicators have fallen for several days, the government considers the COVID-19 situation to have eased, she said.
Spain follows several other European countries that have begun to roll back COVID-related restrictions. Outdoor masks are no longer compulsory in France and Italy announced on Wednesday it would release a timetable for a phase-out of restrictions.
Regional authorities in Spain's Northern Aragon and Basque Country regions as well as in the Canary Islands have also lifted some restrictions on socialising.
Aragon dropped a rule requiring a COVID vaccination or PCR test certificate to access bars and restaurants and scrapped all restrictions on opening hours and capacity. The Basque Country stopped requiring the pass and Canary Islands now permits bars and restaurants to ask for it on voluntary basis.
Catalonia, Spain's second largest region, scrapped the COVID pass requirement a week ago.
Over the past two weeks, the COVID-19 contagion rate in Spain has steadily fallen, reaching 2,421 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, down from almost 3,400 in early January.
Despite the surge in cases between November and January as Omicron spread, hospital admissions and deaths remain well below those seen in earlier waves of the pandemic. This is thanks largely to Spain's high vaccination rate and Omicron's apparent tendency to cause less serious illness than previous variants.
Spain's total death toll from the pandemic stands at 94,040 and the number of cases at 10.2 million.
Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich