COVID-19: Spain steps up vaccine drive amid Omicron variant fears

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By Jaime Velázquez
A woman receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination in the Wizink Center in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.
A woman receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination in the Wizink Center in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.   -   Copyright  Paul White / AP

People have been queuing for COVID-19 vaccines in vaccination centres across Spain, as authorities step up efforts to vaccinate the small proportion of the population that still hasn't been jabbed.

As Europe experiences a new wave of coronavirus, several regions in Spain have introduced stricter measures for the unvaccinated ahead of the Christmas season, extending the use of the COVID-19 certificate to enter public places such as bars and restaurants.

More than 80% of the Spanish population is already immunised, but fears of the Omicron variant has triggered a vaccination drive in the country.

Since mid-November, nearly 200,000 Spaniards who were reluctant to get the vaccine at first have now finally taken the step.

Young and old people alike are getting the vaccine for the first time.

"I'm 19 years old and I'm getting my first dose because of the family gatherings that we are going to have soon. It's not that I didn't need it, it's that I avoided it and now you cannot do that anymore," the young Marina Sanchez told Euronews.

The vaccination's booster campaign follows the surge of new coronavirus cases and rising concerns regarding the Omicron variant, as cases of the new variants have been detected in the country.

However, some epidemiologists are suggesting that inoculation is not the only solution.

"Now we know that the virus's ability to spread is far higher. It's about three times higher and there's no magic recipe. The vaccine is not the solution. We can't forget about everything because we are vaccinated. The situation shows there's a new outbreak and those who haven't got the jab must do it now. But at the same time, we must observe other measures, like mask use, social distancing and indoor ventilation," said epidemiologist Ángela Domínguez.

Hospitals are not overcrowded, but doctors are still urging the population to remain vigilant to new strains such as the Omicron variant.

"My recommendation to the public is to pay attention to the advice of scientific institutions. So when we finally see how effective vaccines are, please pay attention. This hasn't ended yet," warned Dr Javier Garcia Fernandez, the president of the Society of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care.

As new restrictions are imposed to tackle the new wave, the tourism and hospitality sectors fear another disappointing Christmas season, with Omicron possibly making things worse.

Bars and restaurants in Madrid are already fully booked ahead of the thousands of festive gatherings that are typical in Spain before Christmas.

Hospitality business owners warn they will not be able to stay afloat if there are further restrictions after a devastating season last year.

"We cannot afford bars and restaurants closing down again. We've been hit hard. Most businesses are in debt. What we want to send is a positive message and we’re taking all the steps to make sure this celebration, that we all deserve, doesn't translate into a surge of cases," expressed the director of Madrid's Hospitality Association, Juan José Blardony.

In the last two weeks, Spain registered almost 100,000 new cases, but this is still far from a high risk of transmission.

This Christmas may be a litmus test for Spain's strategy against COVID-19.