July 9, 2020 / 4:57 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Two popular Spanish tourist destinations make masks compulsory everywhere

(Recasts with quotes and background)

By Joan Faus and Nathan Allen

BARCELONA, July 9 (Reuters) - Spain’s Balearic Islands will make wearing face masks in public compulsory at all times, joining Catalonia in going further than a national directive that mandates their use only when in close proximity to others.

The Balearics’ order will take effect on Monday while Catalonia’s began on Thursday, just as tourists are starting to return after coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions lift.

The two are Spain’s largest foreign tourist destinations but have fared differently in the coronavirus pandemic. Catalonia recorded the country’s second-highest death toll, while the Balearic Islands have been largely spared.

The Balearics’ regional chief Francina Armengol described the situation on the archipelago as “under control” but cautioned people should not let their guard down as the “virus continues to live among us.”

Catalonia’s directive entered into force on Thursday, to mixed reaction among residents and health experts.

Barcelona resident Leopoldo, 66, said the mask obligation was “logical” because it was hard to keep a safe distance in places like narrow streets.

But others like Diego, 40, disagreed. “I think it makes no sense,” he said by the beach, wearing a mask covering his mouth but not his nose. Wearing a mask, he said, made him feel dizzy.

Spain has curbed one of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreaks - with more than 28,000 deaths - but several small clusters have been detected in recent days, prompting local lockdowns in Catalonia and the Galicia region.

In Catalonia, everyone aged six and over must wear a mask. In the Balearic Islands it is for all aged over six. Flouting the rules will result in a 100-euro fine.

There are exceptions, such as when exercising, swimming and sunbathing at the beach.

Joan Ramon Villalbi, former chairman of the Spanish Society of Public Health, said the mask obligation would have a limited effect and made more sense for urban than rural areas.

“Despite having a modest value, it likely helps and sends the social message that it is important to strengthen preventive measures that some people seem to have forgotten about.”

But the head of infectious diseases at Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron Hospital, Benito Almirante, told local channel TV3 Catalonia’s mask obligation would likely not be that helpful because of a lack of scientific backing and that it could be refused by some citizens.

The World Health Organization has released new guidelines on the transmission of the novel coronavirus that acknowledge some reports of airborne transmission, but stopped short of confirming that the virus spreads through the air.

Reporting by Joan Faus and Albert Gea in Barcelona and Nathan Allen in Madrid; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Janet Lawrence

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