Distribution of masks in France will start on May 4th, says minister

The distribution of face masks to the general public in France will begin on May 4th, the French government has confirmed.

Distribution of masks in France will start on May 4th, says minister
Photo: AFP

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.

READ ALSO 'Living with the virus' – the plan for life in France after lockdown

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?”

Masks have been in short supply in France since the start of the crisis, so much so that the French government requisitioned all mask stocks at the start of March to ensure that they went to the people who needed them most.

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.

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French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.