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HEALTH

‘Uncomfortable but vital’ – Why three quarters of French people support tough mask rules

As face masks become compulsory in more and more places in France, a national poll showed that three-quarters of French people support wearing them in public. Gwendoline Gaudicheau went out to ask Parisians how they are adapting to the city's new rules.

'Uncomfortable but vital' - Why three quarters of French people support tough mask rules
All photos: AFP

Since Friday, masks have been compulsory in all outdoor public spaces in Paris and its suburbs. Over the weekend, other major French cities such as Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Orléans followed suit, while Marseille, Nice and Toulouse had already done so.

Masks are already compulsory in all indoor public spaces in France and from Tuesday will be compulsory for anyone in a shared workspace, while pupils going back to secondary school will also be wearing them in the classroom.

 

Following the poll that showed three quarters of French people support the idea of wearing masks outdoors, we headed out to speak to some people.

Florine Santoro, a 41-year-old stay at home mom, agrees with the new rule. “It’s fine for me,” she told The Local, “but I worry about my children because wearing a mask for them is complicated – one has asthma and I am afraid he might get sicker by wearing it”.

“For my kids, it is hard to understand that, after so many months without seeing their friends, they only get to see their eyes and play with them from afar”, said father-of-two and RATP employee, Mathieu.

If it might be easier for adults to grasp the idea, it is probably due to the threat of the €135 fine you can get if you are caught heading through the Parisian streets without a face protection – although there is now exception made for joggers and cyclists.  

A free pass that 28-year-old graphic designer Iris does not use. The Local meet her while she was jogging along the Canal de l’Ourcq, with her mask on. “To me it is even more important to have it now because when we run, we tend to breathe heavily with our mouth wide open and at first it was compulsory,” she explains.

Indeed, when the Préfecture de Police announced face-masks would become an obligation in the French capital last week, no exceptions existed. For many, it is complicated to understand what to do when the rules are regularly changing.

“Honestly I am lost regarding all the recent contradictions that were made around the mask”, confesses Mario Lawson, a young teaching assistant.

Désirée, 37 and unemployed, is also angry at the government, but for a different reason. “The mask is a good idea for rich people maybe, as everything is with Macron.”

“It’s inappropriate to leave us with the cost of the masks, as if we were responsible for Covid-19”, agrees André, a retired salesman.  

“The State and the French taxpayers cannot finance masks for everyone all the time,” the French president declared in an interview for TF1 in late July. Since then, many politicians, particularly from opposing parties, have asked for the face-protections to become free.

Yet, according to father-of-two Mathieu, it is too easy to blame the government for everything: “They did great in managing a crisis that nobody could have predicted. It is easy to criticise but what would have people done in their situation?”

Disagreeing with how Emmanuel Macron and his ministers handled the situation is one thing, but refusing to wear a mask because you think it goes against your freedom of liberty is another.

For a few weeks now, anti-masks movements have appeared in various European cities. On Saturday, protests happened in Berlin, London and Paris.

“I can understand because it’s a bit restraining to have it. We can’t smile or even wear lipstick and it is just getting sadder and sadder”, argues Marine, a 19-year-old student.

“To me it just seems like nowadays it is trendy to be against the government’s decisions”, disagrees her friend Alice.

For waiter Léo, this needs to be taken seriously. “They scare me. Ignorance is a powerful weapon and can be damaging, I hope there will be actions taken against them”.

During the protest in Paris 123 people were fined and one was arrested according to Le Parisien. But while the French are known for their protesting skills, the anti-mask demo only gathered around 200 people.

In Berlin more than 18,000 people marched.

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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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