The obligatory wearing of masks outdoors will end next week. | Jaume Morey

Health experts in the Balearics are of the view that the most recent decree making the wearing of masks outdoors compulsory was more a political than a necessary measure. The Spanish government's decree, which came into effect on Christmas Eve, is to be revoked next week.

Jordi Reina, head of virology at Son Espases Hospital, believes that abandoning the wearing of masks outdoors will be a "good measure". "Although the pandemic is significant, it is declining and the health impact will not be serious. It (mask-wearing) is not that valuable because outdoors there is hardly any direct contact. It was a more political than epidemiological decision to show that they were concerned about infections."

Specialist in public health, Joan Carles March, feels that "the decision was more aesthetic than effective". "It has always seemed pointless to me because the virus circulating outdoors is twenty times less dangerous than indoors, where masks are still necessary."

Spokesperson for the regional infectious diseases committee, Javier Arranz, says that "it is good to remove limitations based on evidence, and a mask outdoors is the most unnecessary".

They also agree, however, that if people feel safer wearing a mask where there are crowds, especially if they are vulnerable, they would better off wearing it. Arranz adds that a mask should be worn "if you have symptoms or may have been in contact with someone with the infection". "You have to protect yourself and others."

At this stage of the pandemic, though, a great deal of responsibility has been delegated to the public. March: "They have given us self-tests. We assess the results. We decide if we stay at home and then we go back to work after seven days. It makes no sense to maintain the obligation. Wearing a mask or not should be everyone's decision."

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Indoors is different.

Masks are hardly used in restaurants for obvious reasons - eating and drinking. Otherwise, and for the likes of shops, cinemas, health centres or offices, Dr. Reina "would wait a little longer". "There are no longer indoor capacities or, if there are, they are insignificant. People are too close together."

March argues that masks have been "fundamental" during the pandemic, "I wish we had had them at the beginning."

They feel that an increase in infections occurring because masks are not being worn outdoors is only a remote possibility. "What we can expect is that this virus is like the flu and that there will be outbreaks from time to time," argues Reina.

He points out that all the indicators are going down. "It will be difficult to reach acceptable figures of 100 or 150 cumulative incidence, but if there is no new variant, by spring there will be epidemic rates, i.e. post-pandemic." Reina also believes that a new variant is unlikely and that "the explosion of cases during this sixth wave has helped to get people infected with what seems to be the predominant variant". "The more people who have it and get over it, the more there is herd immunity."

Arranz suggests, however, that "herd immunity is not known with this disease because there are small mutations".