Half of Spaniards vaccinated with one dose, mask rules eased

FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks as they walk past to a souvenir shop with masks displayed in Ronda
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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain has vaccinated half of its 47 million population with at least one dose and nearly 32%, or over 15 million people, have been fully inoculated, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

With a record 680,540 people receiving a vaccine over the past 24 hours, Spain has already administered nearly 37.6 million doses, putting it on track to reaching the government goal of fully vaccinating 70% of the population by late August.

Infection numbers have been falling for weeks and Spain is preparing to lift a blanket obligation to wear masks outdoors from Saturday, as announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last week.

"It won't be necessary to use the mask outdoors and in open spaces as long as the distance of 1.5 metres can be maintained," Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters on Wednesday, explaining the new rules and showing little concern about the spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

"We are very much aware of the Delta variant. Maximum attention. We've done it with the Alpha, which had no impact on hospitalisations. We know how to stop the virus in any of its variants," she said.

The nationwide infection rate as measured over the preceding 14 days interrupted its long decline on Wednesday to edge higher to 92.6 cases per 100,000 people from 92.25, but has fallen from around 150 cases a month ago, while pressure on the health system has eased significantly over the past weeks.

A total of 80,748 people have died of COVID-19 in Spain, which registered a cumulative 3,773,032 cases.

Masks will remain compulsory at open air events attended by large numbers of people on foot, but Darias said that when seated at a safe distance, masks will no longer be needed.

Barring a few exceptions such as for exercising, mask wearing has been a legal requirement indoors and outdoors across most of Spain, regardless of social distancing, since last summer, for everybody older than 6.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip; editing by Inti Landauro and Jonathan Oatis)

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