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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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.