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HEALTH

Coronavirus: What are the rules on wearing face masks in France?

The official advice on wearing face masks has shifted rather confusingly in France since the start of the coronavirus epidemic - so what are the current guidelines?

Coronavirus: What are the rules on wearing face masks in France?
French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

When president Emmanuel Macron announced that masks would be central to the next stage of lockdown, it came as a surprise to many who were still following the government's earlier advice that only the sick need to wear masks.

READ ALSO This is how France plans to lift the lockdown

Against a backdrop of shifting advice and confusing local restrictions, we take a look at the current situation in France.

What is the French government advice?

This has changed as the epidemic developed, and as scientific knowledge has increased alongside it.

At the beginning of the epidemic the French government's advice was very clear – only people already infected, their carers or health workers need to wear surgical face masks, for everyone else they were useless.

The government was following advice from the World Health Organisation which stated that fabric masks would not protect people from the droplet infection that transmits the virus.

But as more evidence has emerged about asymptomatic carriers – who are not ill but can nonetheless spread the virus – advice has shifted.

France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon later said: “We encourage the general public, if they so wish, to wear (…) these alternative masks which are being produced.”

The French medical association also advises everybody to wear a mask.

This is a stark contrast to the original messaging, which not only told people not to wear masks, but made them available by prescription only.

So are they compulsory?

Not yet. At present there is only advice to wear one, but that could change from May 11th onwards.

This is the date when France will begin – gradually – to loosen its lockdown restrictions, and masks will play a big part in that. 

With more and more people out and about, Macron said he wanted wearing a mask “to become the new normal” especially on public transport.

SNCF Jean-Pierre Farandou has already suggested that wearing masks will have to be compulsory on trains in the short-term future, given the proximity of passengers.

He said: “If they make us impose distances of 1 to 1.5 metres between each passenger, even with 100 percent of trains operating, we would only be able to carry 20 percent of the number we normally carry. So it won’t work.”

His call was backed by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the head of the RATP Paris public transport network, who said that social distancing on the Metro would not be possible.

However the government is yet to make a decision on whether they will be compulsory on all public transport.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer added that there was a “strong possibility” that masks will become compulsory in the classroom once schools reopen. But Health Minister Olivier Véran has said “it would be very difficult” getting children of school age to wear a mask continuously throughout the day.

Several local mayors have spoken about making masks obligatory, although again they were speaking of when lockdown is lifted.

The only local authority that tried to make masks compulsory now – Sceaux in the greater Paris region – withdrew the proposal after a court challenge.

So how do you get a mask?

Masks have been in short supply after the government requisitioned stocks at the beginning of the outbreak to make sure they got to the people who needed them most.

From April 25th, pharmacies are again allowed to sell them over the counter, after being initially restricted to selling them on a prescription-only basis. Per today, about half of the country's pharmacies have obtained stocks of masks that they are now selling.

The country's Junior Economy Minister says that mass distribution to the population will begin from May 4th, although the method of distribution has not yet been agreed – with local authorities, pharmacies and tabacs all considered as possibilities.

Some local authorities – including in Cannes and Nice – have begun a more widespread distribution.

Due to the shortages many people have begun making their own, although health minister Véran says that many home-made masks are “useless” as they do not conform to technical specifications.

Authorities also worry that wearing masks and gloves gives people a false sense of security and they neglect more important hygiene precautions such as hand washing.

 

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TRAVEL

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

Ever seen those drivers who avoid the queues at toll booths and driving straight through? Here's how they do it.

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you’re driving on French autoroutes one of the things you need to know is that they are not free – you will have to pay regular tolls, payable at toll booths known as péage.

Usually, drivers pick up a ticket from a booth at the start of their journey, then pay the required amount at a booth at the end of it – or when they move onto a different section of autoroute – based on the distance they have travelled.

But the toll booths themselves can be busy, especially during the summer, and long queues sometimes build up.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

This is where automated pay systems – known as télépéage – come in, especially for those who use the motorway network regularly.

As well as allowing you to pass straight through péages without stopping for payment, it’s also very useful for owners of right-hand drive vehicles, who may otherwise find that they’re sitting on the wrong side for easy and speedy payment.

Here’s how it works

Order your télépéage badge online

Click on the Bip&Go website here and follow the instructions to order a scannable personalised device (up to a maximum of two per account for private users). You will need to set up an account to arrange electronic payment of charges.

The website is available in English, French, German or Dutch.

You will need to supply bank details (IBAN number), address (for delivery), mobile phone number (to activate your account) and the vehicle’s registration details.

Your badge will be dispatched to your address within 48 hours from the opening of your online account. You can have the device sent to addresses outside France, but allow longer for it to arrive. 

If you’re in France, you can also pick up the device at one of Bip&Go’s stores, if you prefer – you will need need your bank details, proof of identity and a mobile phone.

Attach your badge 

Place your device on on the windscreen to the right of the rearview mirror. It is activated and ready to go. Then, simply, drive.

At the péage

All toll booths are equipped with the sensors that recognise that the vehicle is carrying the necessary device. At most, you will have to stop briefly for the device to be recognised and the barrier to lift.

You will also be able to drive through certain booth areas without stopping. These are indicated by an orange t symbol on the overhead signs. The maximum speed you can pass through these booths is 30kph.

Payments

Payments are processed automatically. You can monitor the amounts you have to pay on an app.

Do I need separate badges for motorway networks run by different companies?

No. The badge allows holders to travel on the entire French motorway network, no matter which company manages the motorway, and you can also use it to cross a number of toll structures in France such as the Millau Viaduct, the Tancarville Bridge or the Normandie Bridge, and pay to park in more than 450 car parks. 

Is it only valid in France?

No, with certain packages, you can also as easily travel on motorways in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and use a number of compatible car parks. You can even use them on Italian ferries.

Okay, but how much does it cost?

Subscriptions to the Bip&Go service depend on what type of service you want. A fixed price rolling subscription is €16 a year – plus toll charges – but assumes you’re a regular user of French motorways. 

A pay-as-you-go subscription is €1.70 for every month the badge is in use – plus toll charges – and carries a €10 additional fee if the badge is not used in a 12-month period.

How much are the toll charges?

They depend on the road you’re on, how far you travel along it, and the vehicle you’re driving.

Heading from Toulouse to Biarritz along the A64 will cost a total €23 in fees for a private car and if you’re driving all the way from Calais down to the Mediterranean coast expect to pay around €70 once you add up the various tolls along the way.

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

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