France considers making masks compulsory in shops as R-number rises

Henry Samuel
·2-min read
Crowds gather for the concert in Nice - YANN COATSALIOU/AFP via Getty Images
Crowds gather for the concert in Nice - YANN COATSALIOU/AFP via Getty Images

France is mulling making face masks compulsory in confined spaces amid concerns of a second wave of coronavirus, as several regions of Spain declared them mandatory in all circumstances.

The change in strategy came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that people should wear masks in closed areas such as shops and that the government would say more in the next few days about what "tools of enforcement" would be used.

France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said he was looking into shifting the state's stance over mask use from “warm recommendation” to compulsory after experts warned that their dwindling use in recent days had led to rising infection levels in several parts of the country.

In particular, health officials were shocked by the lack of masks and other protective measures at a concert in Nice, southern France, over the weekend attended by 5,000 people.

Jean Castex, the new French prime minister, also said on Sunday that the government was “studying” the idea of making them compulsory “in all closed areas, whatever they might be, as a priority”.

France’s R number, reflecting the amount of people each contaminated person infects, has surpassed the watermark figure of one in most of the country.

Over the weekend, two groups of doctors and epidemiologists issued calls in national newspapers for a clampdown, saying the French were becoming too lax. "It would be most unfortunate if these effective and accessible methods were not used," the doctors warned in an open letter published in Le Parisien.

Anne-Claude Crémieux, an infection specialist at Saint-Louis hospital in Paris, said that poorly ventilated closed areas posed a risk “as the virus can remain in suspension in the air”. “So social distancing may be insufficient. The only real protective measure is for everyone to wear a mask,” she told BFMTV.  

The warnings came as several regions of Spain, including La Rioja, Navarra, Aragon and Andalusia regions were set to make it compulsory to wear a face mask indoors and outdoors. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Extremadura have already made similar moves.

However, Spain’s government is not planning to make their use compulsory nationwide where social distancing can be guaranteed, according to a health ministry source. In the rest of the country, masks are compulsory only if you cannot be at least 1.5 metres away from people.