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HEALTH

Plea to buy ‘made in France’ face masks as country faces a surplus

As the coronavirus begins to ebb in France, the country has a problem unthinkable just a few weeks ago - a surplus of masks - prompting calls for consumers to purchase French-made ones.

Plea to buy 'made in France' face masks as country faces a surplus
French president Emmanuel Macron models a face mask with tricolore ribbon. Photo: AFP

When the coronavirus outbreak was at its height in France, the demand for face masks was so great many textile companies switched to making reusable masks made of cloth.

As the pandemic slows in Europe, businesses have millions of unsold masks on their hands, prompting a government effort to promote these “Made in France” masks.

Washable up to 20 times and sold for between €3 and €5 each, reusable face masks are a crucial means of limiting contagion.

And since mid-March, 450 French companies have begun making them, ramping up production and sometimes investing to make the switch.

Many people received free washable masks from their local authority, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo had distributed 2 million masks in the city. Photo: AFP

Only a few weeks ago, it was near impossible to buy masks in pharmacies in France and even essential workers said they could not source them, prompting anger against the government.

But with the virus on the wane, demand has fallen in recent weeks, prompting a glut and they are now omnipresent in the shop windows of pharmacies.

Some 40 million masks have gone unsold, worrying the textile industry.

Their cries for help to sell the excess goods had until now fallen on deaf ears.

Masks have been used to make statements during the recent anti-racism protests in France. Photo: AFP

But this week, the finance ministry invited the stakeholders for a group discussion and said it was going to “inform the public and large companies” of the benefits of reusable masks.

“Ten percent of companies have too many masks on their hands,” secretary of state for the economy Agnes Pannier-Runacher told RTL radio.

The excess of masks is not the result of a failure in policy, she said.

“Making masks saved hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs,” added Pannier-Runacher on LCP TV, at a time when industries ground to halt to observe a strict two-month lockdown period to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

But the “Made in France” masks are often snubbed in favour of the cheaper but less sustainable option  – the disposable surgical mask.

“Many companies prefer to give their employees surgical masks imported from China,” said Pannier-Runacher.

The surgical mask seems “more practical, but it is less environmentally friendly and less economical,” the finance ministry said in a statement.

Carelessly discarded disposable face masks have become such a problem that the government has now introduced fines of €135 for littering masks.

The fine for littering face masks has risen to €135. Photo: AFP

The ministry also wants to sustain the French production line, in order to be ready for a hypothetical second wave of Covid-19 or a future health crisis.

“The public, companies and local communities need to understand that there are good-quality, reliable 'Made in France' masks that must be given preference over imported and disposable masks,” said Guillaume Gibault, the founder of leading French underwear brand Le Slip Francais.

Gibault told AFP he hoped there will be further initiatives to help the textile industry, which has suffered from outsourcing over the past decades.

Le Slip Francais, best known for its sleek underwear, now offers customers a pack of four reusable masks – in blue with red ties – for €36.

 

Initially, the government advised that masks be worn only by doctors, nurses and people with symptoms, before backtracking and recommending a widespread use.

People accuse the government of having lied about the effectiveness of face masks at the start of the pandemic in order to reserve limited stocks for front-line medical personnel, although World Health Organisation advice on masks also changed as the pandemic developed.

Masks are now obligatory on public transport and many companies and retailers require staff and clients to wear them too.

As lockdown started to be lifted on May 11th, many local authorities also distributed free washable masks.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.

Testing

Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.

Isolation

If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.

Treatment

For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.

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