Could France relax Covid face mask rules this summer?

Could France relax Covid face mask rules this summer?
A sign in Montpellier reminding pedestrians of the mask rule. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP
As France begins reopening after its partial lockdown, Health Minister Olivier Véran said he "sincerely hopes" wearing masks outside will no longer be necessary this summer.

“What we know for sure is that the vaccine protects us from serious forms [of Covid-19],” he said in an interview with Europe 1 on Tuesday.

“What we strongly believe that … the vaccine protects us from infection, and therefore the risk of spreading the virus and causing an epidemic. 

“When we have vaccinated enough people, we can lower our guard.”

Nearly 16.5 million people in France have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, and nearly 7 million have had both doses, according to latest government figures. 

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The government has said that it is on track to reach its target of 20 million people by mid-May. It aims to have given at least one dose of the vaccine to every adult who wants it by the end of the summer.

There is also a four-step schedule in place for reopening venues such as cafés, gyms and theatres, but Véran said he was unable to be more precise on a possible date for ending the mask requirement.

IN DETAIL The calendar for reopening France

“I cannot give a date today, it would not be honest on my part,” he said.

But he added: “Once we can meet again and consider the end of the barrier gestures and the end of [wearing a] mask outside, we will not wait 24 hours. We will say so immediately. And I sincerely hope that it will be this summer.

“The control of the epidemic is accelerating discreetly, but we must not relax too quickly.” 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces in France, and wearing a mask outside became obligatory in many towns and cities from August 2020 after Prime Minister Jean Castex called on authorities to introduce local restrictions.

It remains a requirement in most larger cities and town and around 400 other communes and breaking the rules can net you a €135 fine.

However some are already loosening the requirements on mask-wearing outdoors. A prefectoral decree active in Reims, Tinqueux, Cormontreuil and Betheny ended on May 3rd. The Alpes-Maritimes département, which includes Nice, relaxed the obligation to wear masks on the beach, along the coast and green spaces on May 4th.

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