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French Prime Minister Jean Castex (Photo: AFP) (AFP)
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (Photo: AFP) (AFP)

France imposes indoor public mask-wearing

Wearing of face masks compulsory in France in indoor public spaces like shops and other public spaces from next week

FRANCE : France will make the wearing of face masks compulsory in indoor public spaces from next week, the government said Thursday, as officials noted signs of an uptick in the coronavirus outbreak.

Already obligatory gear on collective transport, masks will also become mandatory in shops and other indoor places frequented by the public, Prime Minister Jean Castex said in the Senate.

"The wearing of a mask, along with barrier measures (such as social distancing and regular handwashing) is an effective method of prevention and protection," he said.

The announcement came as Health Minister Olivier Veran noted signs of a "resurgence" in the coronavirus epidemic that has claimed more than 30,000 lives in France to date.

"We are witnessing in certain hospitals in Paris weak signs of an epidemic resurgence, which is why I urge the French to remain particularly vigilant, active, against the virus," he told public radio.

According to the latest official data, released Wednesday, France had seen 133 new coronavirus patients hospitalised in 24 hours, and 17 more people in intensive care for a total of 482.

This was down from a high of 4,281 people hospitalised in one day in April, and more than 7,100 people in intensive care at the height of the epidemic.

- 'Special attention' -

Veran said an uptick in hospital admissions and telephone calls to emergency services were indicators, not yet worrying, that require "special attention" to the possibility of an epidemic upturn.

One of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, France has all but emerged from a weeks-long countrywide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 epidemic, which had placed immense pressure on its hospital system.

While the stay-at-home orders helped flatten the infection curve, it caused what Castex described Thursday as "the most severe recession since the creation of the national accounts".

France's economic contraction for 2020 is predicted to be about 11%, he said.

While most businesses in France have reopened, some group activities remain restricted and the government keeps urging residents to behave responsibly to prevent a damaging second infection wave.

The government of France, like many other countries, counselled against mask-wearing at the start of the epidemic, urging members of the public to reserve limited masks for healthcare workers.

Since a partial lifting of lockdown on May 11, mask-wearing is obligatory on public transport -- failure to do so is punishable with a fine -- and required for entry into facilities such as the Louvre Museum, Disneyland Paris and the Eiffel Tower.

France has embarked on a mask production campaign, and on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron said face coverings should become compulsory in public places with effect from August 1, as he noted "indications that (the outbreak) is accelerating a bit."

His announcement was widely welcomed but some questioned the need for a two-week delay.

Castex said Thursday that an August 1 start date appeared "late" to many, and announced "the decree will enter into force next week."

Regarding mask-wearing in office buildings, the premier said employers will have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

The government will now draw up a list of what constitutes indoor public places, and possible sanctions for non-compliance.

Indoor mask-wearing was already made compulsory this week in the neighbourhood of Saint-Ouen north of Paris, after several cases were reported in a school.

And on Wednesday, the department of Mayenne in northern France passed a decree making masks mandatory in public in six communes which have reported a rise in infections.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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