French government steps in to regulate face masks and hand gels during coronavirus outbreak

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French government steps in to regulate face masks and hand gels during coronavirus outbreak
Pharmacies across France have been running out of face masks. All photos: AFP

The French government is taking extra action around the supply of surgical face masks and hand gels as hospitals report thefts of 10,000 masks amid coronavirus fears.


Hôpitaux de Paris has reported the theft of 8,300 masks from its sites, as well as 1,200 bottles of hand sanitiser gel, while the Hôpital de la Conception in Marseille reported the theft of 2,000 masks.

Masks have become something of a hot topic since the coronavirus outbreak began, with the government announcing on Tuesday that it was stepping in to requisition stocks of masks to ensure they get to the people who need them.

Follow the latest updates on the situation in France here

The government's advice is that only people are are infected or who are self isolating need to wear masks.

The masks are intended only to stop people from passing on the infection, they do not prevent people from catching it and should not be worn by people who do not fit in to the above groups.

But the message does not seem to have been filtering through and many pharmacies and online stores have run out completely.

Ministers had been asking people who do not need a mask not to buy one, as this creates shortages for priority patients. However after this advice was ignored the government then stepped in to take direct control.

President Emmanuel Macron announced that the government would requisition all stocks and distribute them to people who need them.


The French government had already ordered large stocks of masks for health professionals.

The other thing affected by the outbreak is hand sanitiser gel - which many stores have sold out of while some customers have reported a massive hike in prices.

READ ALSO Coronavirus: The everyday precautions you can take to stay safe in France

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire announced on Wednesday that a decree would be passed capping the price of hand sanitisers to end this problem.

Official health advice is for people to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly, particularly before eating or after couching, sneezing or touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as the Metro, elevator buttons and money.

The official health advice in France is;

  • Wash hands your thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating or it you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the Metro
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

The government advises that anyone recently returned from China (including Hong Kong and Macau), South Korea, Singapore, Iran or the Lombardy, Veneto or Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy should self isolate for 14 days

This means you should;

  • Monitor your temperature twice a day
  • Watch for symptoms of respiratory infection (cough, difficulty breathing)
  • Wear a surgical mask when you are in front of another person and when you have to go out
  • Wash your hands regularly or use a sanitiser gel
  • Avoid any contact with vulnerable people (pregnant women, those with ongoing health problems, elderly people
  • Avoid frequenting places where vulnerable people are present (hospitals, maternity wards, old people's homes)
  • Avoid all non-essential outings (large gatherings, restaurants, cinema)
  • Workers/Students: as far as possible, choose home working and avoid close contact (meetings, lifts, canteen)
  • Children should not be sent to school or nursery

The French government also passed a decree on February 1st that states that anyone who is self isolating (or whose children cannot go to school because of coronavirus) is entitled to 20 days of paid sick leave.

READ ALSO Coronavirus in France: How worried should you be?



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