Spain’s Catalonia makes masks compulsory in public at all times

FILE PHOTO: Women wear protective face masks as they walk through an empty Plaza de Catalunya (Catalonia Square), amidst concerns over coronavirus outbreak, in Barcelona, Spain March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

Catalonia on Wednesday ordered all residents and visitors to wear face masks in public at all times, becoming the first Spanish region to toughen a national directive mandating their use when in close proximity to others.

The order, which takes effect on Thursday, was announced by regional leader Quim Torra four days after more than 200,000 people in the Segria area were placed under a local lockdown following a series of coronavirus outbreaks there.

“Masks will be mandatory all over Catalonia, not just in the Segria region… I think it’s an important measure,” Torra told the regional parliament. “We will distribute protective equipment.”

Spanish authorities last month made wearing masks compulsory indoors and outdoors in all circumstances under which 1.5 metres (5 ft) of social distancing could not be maintained, and until a coronavirus cure or vaccine is found.

Torra’s order removed that social distancing exception for Catalonia, making masks compulsory in all social situations.

The tougher measure aims to stave off a “relaxation” in attitude towards the virus observed among some citizens, regional spokeswoman Meritxell Budo said.

The pandemic has hit Spain harder than most other European countries, causing more than 28,000 deaths and close to 270,000 infections, according to official data.

In Italy, also badly affected, the same strict mask-wearing rules are in effect until July 14 in regional COVID-19 epicentre Lombardy. Elsewhere in the country, wearing masks is not obligatory outside for those who can keep a safe distance from others.