It ain't the weather, but there's definitely a change of season in the air in Catalonia. The easing of the sixth wave of the pandemic, the end of compulsory mask wearing outside, and the reopening of nightlife tonight has quite literally made more smiles visible on the faces of Catalans on the street this Thursday. It has been the first day without an outdoor mask mandate throughout Spain, after almost fifty days of face coverings in public. Just before Christmas, the Spanish government brought back the mandatory mask measure - at all times, when outside - as its only Spain-wide measure against the exponential advance of the omicron variant. The mask regulation now falls - a measure whose effectiveness was widely doubted and was only moderately respected.
Masks in Catalan schools
Masks, however, are still needed in several specific cases. Mostly, indoors: it is still mandatory to wear a mask in any enclosed space open to the public or for public use. As well, at crowded events in open spaces when attendees are standing (or when they are seated if safety distances cannot be maintained); on board planes, buses and trains, as well as on platforms and at stations; also in public or private transport and in the enclosed spaces of ships and boats where safety distances are not maintained.
However, the lifting of the outdoor mask measure at Spanish state level coincides with the farewell to masks in Catalan schoolyards. Until this Thursday, students over the age of six were only able to take off their masks outdoors at school when only their own classroom bubble group were present. Now, the Catalan education department has dropped this restriction, making it no longer necessary for students to wear masks outdoors from February 10th, even if the groups are mixed. The next step will be to remove them while in the classrooms, as well as put an end to the strict maintenance of bubble groups and school quarantines. Mass antigen screenings of school classes have already come to an end.
Catalan nightlife reopens
If today has been the big day for gleefully throwing your mask in the air, tonight will be the big night for some in Catalonia as the nightlife sector reopens after 570 days closed and millions of euros in losses. It will be an odd first night, as nightclubs can't legally open up until the clocks have struck midnight, but no doubt many will be undeterred. The main employer in the sector, Fecasarm, considers that the damage caused over the last year was "preventable" because more "proportionate and effective" restrictions could have been adopted that would have minimized the losses. In addition, the association's members assert that measures have been "totally ineffective and counterproductive", as not only have they "not led to an improvement in the epidemiological situation" in Catalonia, but they also encouraged illegal parties and booze parties in the streets, especially during the summer and over the Christmas holidays of 2021".
In view of all this, one other element will also return to pre-pandemic normality: the Barcelona metro will be in operation all night from Saturday to Sunday once again from this weekend. Until now, the service had adapted its schedules to the Covid restrictions, so it closed at 2am on Saturdays and the nights before public holidays. Of course, the metro is one of those places where masks are still mandatory.