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'We Can't Live Like Zombies': Protesters In Spain Decry COVID-19 Mask Mandate

Crowds gathered in the Spanish capital over the weekend to protest an expanded requirement for them to wear protective masks in public as the government tries to combat a sudden resurgence of coronavirus infections.

Defying the law by going without masks, people gathered Sunday in Madrid's Plaza de Colón. Police said they would normally fine the maskless protesters, but were overwhelmed by their sheer numbers, according to El País.

In a country that has witnessed more than 28,600 deaths since the start of the pandemic, some carried signs reading "The virus does not exist" and "Masks kill."

Among the speakers at the rally was anti-vaccination activist Josep Pàmies, who told people to spread the word in their towns and neighborhoods that the coronavirus is not dangerous.

Others chanted, "What kills is 5G," a reference to a conspiracy theory linking the coronavirus to the latest cellphone technology.

Poet and photographer Ouka Leele told demonstrators: "We can't live like zombies with masks on in the streets."

Mandatory mask use — originally introduced in May for people using public transport — has since expanded to other activities. Last week, the government instituted a number of new measures aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus – including a ban on outside drinking and smoking in areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

Spain suffered one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Europe until the number of cases began to tail off in the spring. Since early July, however, there's been a resurgence. Some 16,000 new confirmed cases have been recorded since Friday.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.