MADRID (Reuters) -Spain is considering easing rules on wearing face masks outdoors, as early as in mid-June, officials said on Monday, as falling transmission and rising vaccination rates have lowered the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Masks have been mandatory indoors and out across most of Spain, regardless of social-distancing, since last summer.
But daily case numbers and the nationwide infection rate have been declining for months and nearly 40% of the population has received at least one vaccine shot, prompting some authorities to reconsider the rules.
After the capital Madrid and the central region of Castilla la Mancha said they were considering easing restrictions, Spain's health emergency chief Fernando Simon said wearing masks outdoors might not be needed in the near future.
"If the (situation) evolves as it is currently doing ... I believe it could be feasible that the mask would not be needed in outdoor open spaces in mid or late June and very likely, almost with (absolute) certainty, at the end of July," he told a news briefing.
Simon, who defended a national approach to easing restrictions rather than a regional one, said it could even be possible to relax the use of masks indoors among highly vaccinated groups before the end of July.
Castilla la Mancha's leader Emiliano Garcia-Page had said earlier his region was determined to abolish the obligation to wear face masks in open spaces before the rule's anniversary in July but added he was seeking a nationwide approach.
His Madrid counterpart, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, who won a landslide election this month after campaigning on looser pandemic restrictions, said her administration was considering a similar move.
Spain's infection rate as measured over the past two weeks fell to 121 cases per 100,000 on Monday, nearly halving since the end of April, although with sharp regional disparities.
Spain's tally of cases rose by 9,732 to 3.68 million from Friday while the death toll climbed by 70 to 79,905, Health Ministry data showed.
(Reporting by Nathan Allen, Emma Pinedo and Joan Faus; Editing by Giles Elgood and David Gregorio)