Masks have been mandatory in all indoor establishments in France since Monday, a rule change that was brought forward after concerns at the rising number of cases.
There are also now steep fines in place – but how are French people feeling about the new regulations?
Failing to wear a mask inside a shop could result in a fine of €135. Photo: AFP
'It's a good thing'
Although a tiny (but loud) minority of anti-mask 'activists' have been making their presence felt on social media in France, the one thing we heard again and again when we asked people about the new rules was 'c'est une bonne chose' (it's a good thing).
“I completely understand,” says Isabelle, a 42-year-old architect from Paris. “It's about protecting the elderly, the more vulnerable.”
“It's not easy, but it's important.” says Asdou, a cleaner originally from Réunion, now living in Paris. “For me wearing a mask is hard because I have allergies and it sometimes gets difficult for me to breathe, particularly on the Metro. But it's for the good of everyone.”
There's perhaps an impression that young people are more selfish when it comes to social distancing and barrier gestures, but the ones we spoke to were well aware of the importance of the new rules.
“It's normal,” says Sophie, a 25-year-old film student from Deauville. “If they say wear it, we wear it.”
That was echoed by Chloe, a 22-year-old waitress originally from Angers.
“It's horrible but we have no choice. If people don't wear masks the virus will begin to circulate again and we will have to close down.”
The French say they follow the rules
Not one person that we spoke to felt that the French were anything other than top-notch at following the regulations.
That said, some did feel there was room for improvement.
“I know there's a new rule, but I think people are relaxing,” says Pauline, a 28-year-old hairdresser from Fontainebleau. “When it's warm people drink, and the rules fall away.”
Architect Isabelle said she had just returned from Spain where people “still have the fear of the virus, because the cases are higher, so they're more careful. People here don't have the same fear anymore.”
Visiting London couple Gregory and Lindsey (both wearing beautiful paisely-patterned masks) were impressed with the level of compliance they'd encountered in Paris.
“I'd say eighty percent of people wear masks on public transport in London even though it's compulsory, but here it's more like ninety-five. And we even saw a woman tell someone off for not wearing one on the Metro,” says Gregory.
However Paris-based Korean journalist Jennie put France's mask-wearing credentials into harsh perspective when compared to her home country.
“Even with the new rule, it's lax,” she says. “In Korea basically everyone wears masks all the time. You risk stigmatisation if you don't.”
“It's probably a cultural thing, but Korea had one of the first major outbreaks and it's had less than 300 deaths in total so far. They seem to believe it was due to early and persistent mask-wearing.”
Parisians vs the rest of France
Finally, there was some interesting divergence of opinion on whether Parisians were better or worse at sticking to the rules than the rest of France.
Paris was particularly hard-hit by the virus, so has that made Parisians more cautious?
“People in Paris still do la bise” says waitress Chloe, referring to the French double cheek greeting kiss. “It's crazy. Back home [in Angers] you don't see it.”
“It scares me how many people I see close together in bars and on the Metro here in Paris,” says hairdresser Pauline. “Masks or no masks, it's not a good idea.”
But Anne-Sophie, a 31-year-old bank clerk from the town of Yvetot in Normandy, says it's outside the big city that rules are falling by the wayside.
“Where I'm from is a bit rural, so I rarely see people wearing masks. It's like they don't think it will touch them,” she says.
That was echoed by Rosalie, a 26-year-old doctoral student originally from rural Épernay.
“Back in Champagne, it's like the pandemic doesn't exist anymore.” she says. “Generally, the rules are better-followed in Paris.”