Spanish Prime Minister Set to Enact Law That Makes it Mandatory to Wear Masks Outside

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is set to enact a law by decree to make it mandatory for people to wear masks outside.

On Wednesday, Sánchez announced a special Cabinet meeting for Thursday with leaders of regional governments, saying he was agreeing to their appeals to extend mask requirements, his office said. A decree-law does not need a debate or vote in parliament before being enacted.

He also announced other measures, such as an offer to deploy the armed forces to help regions increase their vaccinations and provide military hospital beds to them if needed.

Nearly 700 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days have been reported, over double the amount of cases before last year's Christmas holidays. Cases involving the Omicron variant increased from 5 percent to 47 percent in one week.

On Tuesday, Spain reported nearly 50,000 new COVID vases, higher than when a surge caused a severe burden to the national health system last January.

"The rise in the diagnosis of new cases in health clinics and hospitals ... can in the short- to mid-term lead to a new collapse of the health system," Spain's association of lung doctors said last week.

Spain previously ended the mandatory outdoor mask requirement in June, only requiring masks while in indoor public places or crowded outdoor spaces where social distancing wasn't possible, according to Raidió Teilifís Éireann. It was first enforced in May 2020 after the first wave of COVID hit.

Spain, Mandatory Masks Outdoors, Decree-Law
People walk along a commercial street in downtown Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is convening a special Cabinet meeting Thursday to pass a decree-law that makes it mandatory to wear masks outdoors. Manu Fernandez/AP Photo

Sánchez said he is targeting 80 percent of the 60-69 age group to have received booster shots by the end of next week, among other goals.

Also, COVID-19 tests for professional use will temporarily be placed on sale at pharmacies, amid a reported shortage of tests, and medical teams will be reinforced with retired staff and specialists who earned their qualifications outside the European Union.

Furthermore, fully vaccinated people won't need to quarantine if they have been in contact with an infected person - a measure that seemed to be aimed at avoiding the shortages of essential personnel.

Vaccinations are credited with sparing many people from the virus's worst effects. While last January some 30,000 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital in Spain, now it's fewer than 8,000.

Sánchez told the Spanish parliament Wednesday that 90 percent of the target population 12 and over is fully vaccinated.

He told lawmakers: "Don't worry, families will be able to celebrate Christmas. Spain has prevailed."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Spain, Mandatory Masks Outdoors, Decree-Law
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also announced other measures, such as an offer to deploy the armed forces to help regions increase their vaccinations and provide military hospitals beds to them if needed. In this photo, Sánchez speaks during a press conference following a Conference of Regional Presidents on the evolution of the COVID pandemic, at the Spanish Senate in Madrid, on Dec. 22, 2021. Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images