Spain became one of the last European countries to announce the end of its outdoor mask mandate on Thursday and further eased COVID-19 measures in nursing homes and sports stadiums.
From Saturday, anyone in Spain who can maintain 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of distance between others in outdoor spaces will no longer be required to wear a mask. They will still be required indoors or in crowded outdoor spaces.
Until then, Spain still legally requires everyone to wear masks outdoors – even if walking alone in the countryside.
“We had the toughest mask restrictions in all of Europe, but citizens followed the rules extraordinarily well. My colleagues in Europe were surprised,” said Health Minister Carolina Darias at a news conference.
“Now masks will give way to our smiles once again,” she added.
The Spanish government also announced it would relax measures in sports stadiums, allowing professional Spanish football and basketball matches to return to pre-pandemic capacity limits.
Nursing homes or other care homes will also allow residents to take off their masks indoors if 80% of the residents have been fully vaccinated.
The news comes a day after Spain saw its first slight increase in the 14-day coronavirus infection rate since April. On Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported more than 4,300 new coronavirus infections and 29 deaths.
Spain’s official COVID-19 death toll is 80,748.
Spain has one of Europe’s higher COVID-19 infection rates, but its hospitals remain far from saturated. Just 2% of all hospital beds and 7% of intensive care units are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Bars, restaurants and even nightclubs have been open for weeks or months, depending on the region. Nightly curfews have also been eliminated nationwide.
Indeed, vaccines are credited for most of the country’s success in avoiding another major wave since winter.
As of Wednesday, 50% of the entire Spanish population has received at least one jab and 32% has been fully immunized. Of those older than 40, nearly 82% have been at least partially vaccinated.