Once France's strict lockdown begins to be lifted from May 11th, face masks are set to be crucial for workers, in schools and on public transport.
But at present it is difficult to find a mask and many people have resorted to making their own.
Now Junior Minister for Economy and Finance Agnès Pannier-Runacher says that distribution of washable fabric masks to everyone in France will begin on May 4th.
Her statement was confirmed by the French Health Minister Olivier Véran in an interview with France Inter on Friday morning.
Many people are already choosing to wear masks, some making their own because of a shortage of supplies. Photo: AFP
However the method of distribution is still not clear with local mairies, pharmacies, tabacs and websites all being considered.
“I won't close any doors,” Véran said.
“We need to lean on mayors, collectivities, pharmacies (..), supermarkets and, why nots, tabacconists. The idea is to generalise wearing masks in the population,” he said.
Pannier-Runacher told French newspaper Les Echos that: “Several distribution methods have been identified to enable as many French people as possible to have access to them.
“The range of possibilities is very wide and we are looking at all the hypotheses: pharmacists, town halls, supermarkets, tobacconists, the Afnor platform, e-commerce etc.
“The State will help to provide masks to the general public as soon as possible through the most suitable distribution channels.
“The first experiments will be carried out from May 4th.
“Some questions remain to be answered: how can we avoid overstocking by some people at the risk of causing local supply disruptions? How will this phenomenon be tackled?”
Agnès Pannier-Runacher says distribution methods are still to be decided. Photo: AFP
But now production has been stepped up and Pannier-Runacher said that 10 million washable masks a week are now being made, with production set to hit 25 million a week by the end of April.
The fabric masks for the public are washable and intended to be worn more than once, and are not the same as the protective masks worn by healthcare staff.
Expert opinion is generally that wearing a mask will not protect you from getting the virus, but could stop you from spreading it.
Health Minister Véran said using self-made masks made of cloths and other fabrics was “useless,” as it did not offer real protection from the virus.
“We have made the rigorous choice to have masks that filtrate 70 to 90 percent of particles,” the health minister said.
“These masks take a little longer to make and produce, but we can give them to the French and say that this is a real security measure.”
“I prefer that to the French wearing a scarf or making a mask with a t-shirt. Feeling protected is not the same as being protected.”
Masks have become more central to government strategy on the back of increasing evidence that many coronavirus patients experience no symptoms at all – but can still spread the virus.
At present the government advice from Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon is: “We encourage the general public, if they so wish, to wear (…) these alternative masks which are being produced.”
The French Medical Association has also advised people to start wearing masks.
However once the lockdown starts to be loosened on May 11th they are likely to become compulsory in some places, particularly on public transport.