mask obligatory even on the beach | Josep Bagur Gomila


Where to begin? Let’s take the end of a piece written by a Spanish journalist, Javier Mato. “We simply don’t have a government. We have no direction. This is useless. It’s pitiful.”

Technically speaking, the mandatory wearing of masks on beaches, irrespective of safe distancing, arose from Congress approval of an amendment to existing emergency law regarding health measures.

This amendment was passed on March 18. It established that masks are obligatory even in situations where safe distance is maintained, i.e. a distance of 1.5 metres. And you had thought this was the case anyway?

Well yes, it was. But the Senate had yet to definitively ratify a royal decree of the “new normality” that had been approved way back in June last year.

Once it did, Congress then rubber-stamped the Senate ratification and included the definitive obligation regarding the wearing of masks, which had in any event been in the text of another decree that followed the one in June.

The health minister, Carolina Darias, said that “a long time had passed” since the processing of the new normality law had begun last summer.

Into this framework, therefore, came the masks on beaches business. A regulation for this appeared in the Official Bulletin of State, at which point there was a public outcry and there were objections from regional governments - the Balearics and the Canaries most prominently.

Within a matter of hours, the masks on beaches business was up in the air. It was now that Spanish and British journalists almost gave up trying to figure out what was going on.

Darias proceeded to baffle everyone by referring to working “in a technical way” to elaborate technical application criteria and to “harmonise” the regulation that had appeared, “because there are regions which have different regulations”.

“It is very important to be able to harmonise, homogenise and contextualise. These are the three main reasons why I have proposed to the Inter-Territorial Council for the National Health System to work in a technical way to achieve these objectives.”

What was she was talking about? Some attempted to make sense of the gobbledegook but only succeeded in adding to it.

The health minister of Cantabria, Miguel Rodríguez, observed that the law “may be nuanced between the government and the regions because it has been decontextualised”.

Essentially, the government, having published its order, then realised that there needed to be an interpretation that would in effect allow masks not to be worn under certain conditions.

And these conditions are precisely those contained in regional government regulations, e.g. those of the Balearic government, where - for example - the wearing of masks is not mandatory so long as safe distance can be maintained.

A principle which was seemingly being forgotten was that of “co-governance” between the state and the regions.

The Spanish government was overriding what it had facilitated - the ability of the regions to establish their own rules within the general framework of health measures.

Such was the degree to which this principle was being neglected that it was clear that the Balearic government had no idea that the new masks regulation was about to be introduced.

The regional health minister, Patricia Gómez, said as much. Meanwhile, and because these things get somewhat tangled up, it was reported that it was the Balearic government which had decided on the measure, when it had done nothing of the sort.

Jorge Marichal, who is the president of the Ashotel association in Tenerife and also the president of the Cehat national confederation of hotels, has been critical of the Spanish government in recent months, and the business with the masks offered him a further opportunity.

Making masks obligatory, he said, was “untimely” and made no sense “unless it is shown that it is in these places (e.g. beaches) where the greatest infections occur”. “It is a disincentive for the coming months ... If it is justified, we will abide by it, but if not, then we ask for its withdrawal, as it will do a lot of damage to the image of this country, to the economy and therefore to the tourism industry.”

It seemed “strange” to Marichal that at the current stage of the pandemic, one year after the state of alarm was declared, this type of measure should be adopted.

“The government, through all the data from health authorities, must know perfectly where the sources of contagion are.” “According to information we have, these are precisely not beaches or mountains.”

Marichal’s reference to the state of alarm is relevant in this context.

It has been suggested that the masks’ measure would only apply to the current state of alarm, which is due to end on May 9.

This isn’t how I read it because it is linked to the post-state of alarm new normality decree in June last year. In other words, it would be a measure that could potentially remain in place for the summer.

As things are probably going to turn out, Carolina Darias will find some interpretation to “contextualise” the order which means that regulations will indeed be left to the regional governments.

The Inter-Territorial Council will convene again next week, and this will be the likely outcome. But this shouldn’t have to be, as the measure should never have surfaced. Useless. Pitiful.

Germany doesn’t know whether it’s coming or not

Thomas Bareiss, Germany’s commissioner for tourism, has said that there should be less talk about bans and more about making travel possible.

With the German government struggling with the legalities of implementing a travel ban, Bareiss stated earlier this week that he didn’t believe that “we can currently impose a travel ban in Europe, because we have freedom of movement within the European Union”.

While one member of the government was in favour of travel, another - Helge Braun - was not. The head of the chancellery, Braun is of the view that holidays should only be possible from August.

Echoing what has been said in the UK (foreign holidays “unlikely” until August), Braun incurred the wrath of the president of the DRV travel association, Norbert Fiebig.

The minister had spoken “rashly”, and the German government “seizes whatever opportunity it can to present travel as morally reprehensible and impose innumerable restrictions”.

“Instead, the government should make vaccination and testing a top priority, so that we no longer have to restrict our freedoms.”

Where have we heard that before?