Spanish health authorities have attempted to clarify the rules governing the use of facemasks amid growing confusion, dismay and worries about whether they need to be worn on beaches.

On Wednesday night, the government repeated its assurance that masks did not need to be worn during exercise, adding they would not be obligatory for those going swimming in pools, the sea, rivers, reservoirs or lakes either – as long as social distancing could be maintained.

It said the law announced at the end of March specified that masks were not necessary for bathing and explained they were not obligatory at all times on beaches if due care was taken.

“Rest periods before or after swimming or water sports [are exempt],” the ministry said in a statement.

“When it comes to beaches, rivers, or similar surroundings, the previously mentioned periods can apply only when a person remains in a specific place and respects a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from non-household members. In the case of covered swimming pools or those resting aboard boats, the rest period will apply strictly to the time needs for intervals between activity.”

The text, agreed by the committee that brings together central and regional health authorities, said masks would need to be worn by those walking to rivers, lakes and beaches and in the changing rooms of public or communal swimming pools.

Masks are also compulsory for those inside or outside bars and restaurants except “for the moments necessary for eating or drinking”.

The health ministry had previously announced that mask-wearing would be compulsory at all times, even when people were alone outdoors and able to ensure a safe social distance of 1.5 metres from others.

The move was bitterly criticised by the tourism industry and some regional governments, prompting the ministry to revisit the issue.

“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 at the end of March.

Last month Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s coordination centre for health emergencies and alerts, said that while masks should be obligatory in enclosed spaces, it was 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,” he added.

Spain is currently facing a fourth wave of the coronavirus, which figures on Thursday showed had so far infected 3,326,736 people and claimed 76,037 lives.

This content first appear on the guardian

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