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HEALTH

Nice becomes second French city to make masks compulsory in all outdoor areas

Following in the footsteps of Toulouse, Nice became the second French city to make masks obligatory on all its streets on Thursday, in a bid to halt the quickening Covid-19 spread.

Nice becomes second French city to make masks compulsory in all outdoor areas
As of Thursday, masks were made compulsory everywhere outside in Nice. Photo: AFP

The new rule, announced by local authorities on Wednesday evening, entered into effect on Thursday morning.

The blanket measure was an extension of already existing rules on mask-wearing in certain streets of Nice, which is the seventh most populous city of France.

The decision was made by the Aples-Maritimes départment in response to a request by Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi to embrace a coherent approach for the city.

“To remain consistent in our fight against Covid-19 and to eradicate any doubts about the scope of wearing a mask, I would like to make mask-wearing compulsory everywhere in Nice,” Estrosi had said in a press statement.

 

Masks have become a key preventive measure in France's attempt to stem what over the past week has been a rapidly increasing spread of Covid-19 across the territory.

Instead of introducing a blanket measure on mask-wearing outdoor everywhere in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex urged local authorities to extend their rules “as far as possible,” adapting local rules to local conditions.

Around 400 communes have so far brought in rules on masks in outdoor spaces, piling on the nationwide law that requires everyone to wear face-masks on public transport and indoors in public places, on pain of a €135 fine.

Some towns have specified certain areas, such as the historic walled town of Saint-Malo, while others have specified busy areas such as main shopping streets and outdoor markets.

Masks will also be mandatory in all indoor open-plan workplaces as of September 1st.

Toulouse, France's second largest city, announced similar rules to Nice on Wednesday, but limited mask-wearing in the streets to between 7am and 3am.

Currently Nice has not made any time exemptions.

In Paris authorities first brought in a complicated system where masks were compulsory on 102 named streets. After much complaint, from August 15th a slightly less complicated system was brought in, where masks are compulsory in 37 zones but not in the whole city.

 

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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