Masks mandatory on Spain public transport as easing begins

Madrid (AFP) –


Masks became mandatory on public transport Monday as Spain took its first tentative steps towards a commercial reopening with small businesses accepting customers by appointment and restaurants prepping food for takeaway.

Spain's population of nearly 47 million have been confined to their homes for more than 50 days as the country sought to curb the spread of the deadly virus which has so far claimed 25,428 lives according to official figures.

But the daily death rate has been steadily falling, with the country on Monday counting another 164 deaths in 24 hours, an identical number to Sunday which was the lowest figure in nearly seven weeks.

And on Monday, the number of new cases fell to 545, the lowest figure since the country shut down on March 14 to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

Health chiefs believe the epidemic peaked on April 2 when 950 people died in one 24-hour period.

Spain began transitioning out of its strict virus lockdown on April 26 when it allowed children outside for an hour a day with the measure extended this weekend to adults who can now go out for a brief walk or exercise alone.

The government has said the restrictions will be gradually lifted in a four-phase process which will be completed by the end of June, with the country already engaged in the first preparatory stage.

On Monday, new rules went into effect on public transport, with police and civil protection officers handing out millions of masks at stations across the country to ensure commuters complied with the now-compulsory requirement.

"We remind you that it is obligatory to wear a mask, whether travelling on a train or anywhere inside the transport system," said a message over the loudspeakers at Sol station in central Madrid, which serves the metro and interurban trains.

"Until today I hadn't seen people wearing masks but now I can," said Cristina Jimenez, 31, who works in a currency exchange outlet and has been working throughout the lockdown.

On Monday, easing measures went into effect for some small businesses with premises no larger than 400 square metres (4,300 square foot) which can now receive customers with a reservation.

"Today it's a bit chaotic with all the clients phoning for an appointment and trying to fit them all in," said Conchi Navarro, a 56-year-old hairdresser wearing a mask who has just opened her Barcelona salon.

Restaurants will also benefit from the changes. Until now, they have been allowed to prepare food for delivery, but from Monday they can also offer meals that customers can come and collect in person.

Spain is currently in the so-called preparatory phase zero and will enter stage one on May 11 when it will allow gatherings of up to 10 people within strict social distancing guidelines and the limited opening of bar terraces and street cafes.