‘Stay quiet on the Metro to avoid spreading Covid’ say France’s health bodies

As fear grows about new variants of the Covid-19 virus, France's national medical body has released new advice including staying silent on public transport and using surgical-grade masks.

'Stay quiet on the Metro to avoid spreading Covid' say France's health bodies
Staring in silence at phones complies with the recommended protocol. Photo: AFP

France has been pushing advice on les gestes barrières (hygiene gestures) since the beginning of the pandemic, with no press conference complete without a mention of the general advice on physical distancing, mask-wearing, regular handwashing and avoiding physical contact such as kissing or handshaking.

Now, however, with the emergence of new variants in the UK, South Africa and Brazil which experts believe are more contagious, the Académie nationale de médecine and Haut Conseil de santé publique have published revised advice on extra measures that people can take on top of the standard procedures.

They are recommending three things;

1. Ditch the fabric masks

This echoes revised government advice published on January 18th that home-made fabric masks, previously recommended for everyday use, are not sufficient protection against the new variants.

The advice is now to wear a surgical mask, although the high-grade FFP2 masks are still recommended for medical professionals only.

The mask guidance is, for the moment, advisory, so you will not be fined for wearing a fabric mask in a public place as long as you are wearing it correctly over your mouth and nose.

Here is the latest mask guidance in detail.

2. Stay 2 metres apart

Previously the government advice on physical distancing has been to stay at least 1m apart, a shorter distance than many other countries recommend. 

The public health council has now revised this guidance to 2m, and added that anyone who had been within 2m of an infected person will now be considered  a contact case (previously only people who had been within 1m were considered contact cases)

3. Stay quiet on public transport

The medical council also advises people to avoid talking – in person or on the phone – on public transport, even while masked.

Masks are compulsory on all public transport in France – although as users will know some people seem to think a phone call is a reason to pull down their mask – but even with this protection, talking is not advised, since the aerosol diffusion of droplet infection is greater from talking.

This guidance is specific to public transport because it is frequently not possible on services to respect physical distancing rules, the council added. Chatting in the street or other public places is still allowed.


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French public urged to wear face masks again on public transport

With France in the middle of a new wave of Covid-19, the country's health minister has urged the public to once again wear face masks on public transport and in crowded spaces.

French public urged to wear face masks again on public transport

With cases on the rise again, French Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon said she is “[asking] the French to put masks back on in transport” in an interview with RTL on Monday, 

For the time being, however, she stressed it was just advice, rather than an obligation, and masks have in fact been recommended on public transport since the legal requirement to wear them was lifted in May. 

However with France reporting over 50,000 daily cases of Covid-19 the government is clearly concerned by the current wave of the pandemic.

Bourguignon said that “we must protect ourselves and protect others,” adding that wearing a mask is “a civic gesture.”

She urged people to don their masks as soon as they see a crowded train or station.

READ MORE: Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

In addition to public transport, Bourguignon is also asking the French to once again mask-up in “all crowded, enclosed areas.”

Currently, masks are only required in hospitals, health centres and places that have vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. They are recommended in crowded spaces where it is impossible to practice social distancing.