Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Spain's regions seek tighter restrictions as COVID-19 cases tick up

2 minute read

A hospital staff member adjusts protective glasses before treating a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Hospital del Mar, where an additional ward has been opened to deal with an increase in coronavirus patients in Barcelona, Spain July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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BARCELONA, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Spain's Catalonia region plans to demand proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test for entry to bars, restaurants and stadiums, while other regions are pushing for similar restrictions to tame rising infection rates.

The latest wave of infections in Spain, which has fully vaccinated a hefty 79% of its population, remains well below levels seen in Austria and the Netherlands, but authorities see the risk of it spiralling rapidly out of control.

Catalan regional government spokesperson Patricia Plaja told reporters the administration would seek judicial approval for the COVID pass to "reduce the risk of infection and to avoid overloading the health system".

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Mandatory COVID passes, because they are seen as infringing on fundamental civil liberties, require a sign-off from regional courts, whose responses to government requests have been mixed.

Catalonia, an affluent northeastern region, has a 14-day infection rate of 183 cases per 100,000 people, above the Spanish average of 132 and the 150 mark deemed as "high risk".

It already requires the COVID pass for entry to nightclubs.

Nationwide occupancy of intensive care beds by COVID patients stands at a modest 5% on average, but some regions such as Catalonia and Aragon are above 11%.

In Navarre, across the Pyrenees from coastal Catalonia, authorities said they would seek court approval on Wednesday for the COVID pass at restaurants and nightclubs during the Christmas holiday season.

After a court in the neighbouring Basque region rejected a petition for COVID passes in restaurants, authorities said they could declare a health emergency if pressure on hospitals worsened.

If approved, the tighter restrictions could dampen Spain's hopes to lure millions of tourists for the holidays, but the government remains upbeat that tourism will reach 66% of pre-pandemic levels in the fourth quarter.

"We have consolidated our image as a safe destination in the whole European context," Tourism Secretary Fernando Valdes told Reuters, expecting more tourists for Christmas than in the 2021 summer season.

To cope with the rise in infections, Spain is offering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to people aged 60 and over, health workers and vulnerable groups, and plans to do so to a wider population.

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Reporting by Joan Faus and Inti Landauro, additional reporting by Emma Pinedo and Corina Pons, editing by Andrei Khalip, Nathan Allen and Mark Heinrich

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