Masks handed out to commuters as Spain takes steps towards reopening

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid. REUTERS

Red Cross workers handed out protective masks at Madrid’s metro stations on Monday as Spain began a four-phase plan to reopen the country by the end of June, while the 24-hour death tally from coronavirus stayed under 200 for the second day in a row.

Mask usage in public transport is mandatory as of Monday, while small businesses like beauty salons and bookstores can start limited services. Customers can pick up take-away orders from restaurants.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday that six million masks were due to be distributed in Spain, one of the worst-hit nations by the global pandemic.

The death toll climbed by 164 in the previous 24 hours to 25,428 and cases reached 218,011, according to health ministry data on Monday.

In central Madrid, hardware-store owner Jorge Garcia was sticking posters explaining the new regulations to his windows before reopening for the first time in 50 days.

“We are starting to get going little by little,” he said, as he fixed black-and-yellow caution tape across his doorway and set out bottles of hand sanitizer for his customers.

In the next stage, outdoor areas of bars and restaurants can open at half occupancy, while groups of up to 10 people will be allowed in public places and in homes.

Three of the Canary Islands – La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa – and the Balearic island of Formentera will enter this second phase on Monday and open outdoor terraces.

These islands have not registered new COVID-19 cases in 28 days. The rest of the country is set to enter phase one on May 11, if they meet the criteria established by the health ministry.

“If we see it works and it is profitable we will keep opening,” said Juan Manuel Benitez, who opened his bar on the island of El Hierro on Monday.

“I have taken all the measures that the council has advised me to do with customers coming in one by one and sitting out on the terrace,” he said, adding that people were being co-operative.

Over the weekend, people across Spain were allowed out of their homes for the first time in seven weeks as the government began easing tough restrictions. Joggers, cyclists and walkers took to the streets in droves and some beaches were packed.

Spain imposed a strict lockdown in March, confining most of the population to their homes for all but essential trips.

As the rate of infection has fallen and hospitals have regained their footing, Sanchez’s government has shifted its focus towards gradually reopening the country and reviving a badly battered economy.


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