Spain says masks no longer totally obligatory indoors

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Spain is taking another step toward a sense of normality amid the pandemic by partially ending the near two-year-long obligatory use of masks indoors

MADRID — Spain took another step Wednesday toward a sense of normality amid the pandemic by partially ending the near two-year-long obligatory use of masks indoors.

The government decree, passed Tuesday, keeps masks mandatory for visitors and staff in medical centers and nursing homes, although patients won’t always be obliged to wear them.

Masks will also be mandatory on all forms of public transportation, but not in stations or airports.

In turn, they are recommended, but not obligatory, in multitudinous gatherings, in packed areas or in the presence of vulnerable people. Schools are also exempted from having to use them.

“The mask without doubt has been one of the most identifiable measures over the past two years and it will no longer be obligatory,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said Tuesday. “They will continue to be with us as an element of protection, particularly for the most vulnerable.”

The ebbing of the pandemic comes as Spanish prosecutors turn their attention to possible illegalities in the purchasing of masks and other medical products by authorities in the critical first few months of the outbreak.

Two of the most prominent cases involve the Madrid region and the capital city’s town hall.

State prosecutors are investigating two men who they say pocketed more than 6 million euros ($6.5 million) in commission by selling masks and other products to Madrid city hall at exorbitantly inflated prices. Prosecutors say the two bought luxury cars, watches and even a yacht with the money.

Meanwhile, Spanish and European prosecutors have also been looking into the purchase of masks by the the Madrid regional government in a deal brokered by the brother of regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso for a substantial commission.

In both cases, authorities say they acted in good faith during a national emergency and that it was extremely difficult to obtain these products at the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, analyzing the books of Spain’s major cities and some major institutions during the first three months of the pandemic, Spain’s Court of Auditors has found that there were often major exorbitant differences in the prices paid for masks and other products.