The Spanish tourist industry has reacted with dismay to the government’s decree that face masks must be worn in all outdoor spaces, including beaches and swimming pools, even when it is possible to maintain social distancing.
“We’re going through hell with thousands of jobs and businesses threatened and now they want to turn the beaches into open-air field hospitals,” José Luis Zoreda, vice-president of Exceltur, the umbrella organisation that represents Spain’s tourism industry, told El País newspaper.
Industry representatives complain that they were not consulted over the decision, which was announced in an official state bulletin on Tuesday.
“We’ve already given up on Easter as a lost cause,” said Zoreda. “Now we have to put our hopes on summer.”
He said the “improvised measures” did not inspire confidence on the part of the foreign visitors whom the struggling industry is desperate to bring back. Tourism accounts for about 12% of Spain’s GDP.
Masks have been obligatory indoors and out in Catalonia since last July and in Valencia since early this year, despite claims by scientists that there is a very low risk of contagion in the open air.
Earlier this month Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s coordination centre for health emergencies and alerts, said: “I don’t believe that masks are the key to reducing transmission. It’s not necessary for everyone to wear one. What’s important is that people who are infected wear one, although we don’t know who is infected and who isn’t.” Simón added that they should be obligatory in enclosed spaces.
The government has reacted to criticism, saying the decree is open to interpretation and that details of its implementation would be hammered out between central government and Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.
In Catalonia, where masks have been compulsory for the past eight months, exceptions are made for outdoor sporting activities, eating, drinking and smoking.
Officially, eating and drinking in the street is prohibited, but the measure is rarely enforced.
Meanwhile, there are growing fears of a fourth wave as four regions, including Madrid, reported an infection rate of 250 per 100,000 of population over the past 14 days.
Tuesday’s decree will remain in force until the government is convinced that the pandemic has ended, suggesting that mask wearing will be a fact of life in Spain for some time to come.