Why is France lifting Covid curfew and mask rules early?

Prime minister Jean Castex announced on Wednesday that wearing masks outdoors will no longer be a requirement from Thursday, while the curfew will be lifted 10 days earlier than originally scheduled. But why has the government decided to speed up the easing of restrictions?

Why is France lifting Covid curfew and mask rules early?
Prime minister Jean Castex announced on Wednesday that wearing masks outdoors will no longer be a requirement from Thursday, June 17th. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

On June 9th, France reached phase 3 of its reopening plan with bars, restaurants and cafés reopening their indoor spaces and the curfew moving back to 11pm.

The 4th stage, which will see the curfew scrapped entirely, was initially scheduled for June 30th, while earlier this week, Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon told RTL radio that the requirement to wear masks in outdoor spaces could be lifted “as soon as July 1st”.

But on Wednesday the PM announced both rules would end earlier than planned with the curfew that has been in place since December to end on Sunday, whilst wearing masks outdoors would no longer be obligatory from Thursday.

So what made it possible for restrictions to be lifted earlier than scheduled?

A low incidence rate

Case numbers and hospital numbers continue to fall sharply and for the first time since August 2020 the national incidence level (cases per 100,000 of the population) is below 50 (green), as shown in the map below.

Except for a few départements including Pyrenées-Atlantiques, the Paris region and the overseas department of Guyane, most of France is now green.

Image: Covidtracker 

READ ALSO: Delta variant: Is France heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?

The average number of daily Covid-19 cases is down to 3,881, a 40% decrease in just one week. In early April they were up at 40,000 each day.

Number of daily Covid-19 cases. Photo: CovidTracker

The number of daily deaths has dropped down to 55, a 17% decrease in a week.

Number of daily Covid-19 deaths. Photo: CovidTracker

There are currently 1,952 people in intensive care, compared to 6,000 in early April. 

Number of occupied intensive care beds in French hospitals. Image: CovidTracker

Successful vaccine rollout

After a slow start, France’s vaccine rollout has sped up in recent weeks, with more than 550,000 people getting vaccinated most days. 

Forty-five per cent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine whilst just over 23 percent are completely vaccinated. 

It is unclear what level of cover is needed to really impact the spread of infections but with Covid rates low and vaccines being administered at a good pace the government will be confident of avoiding any significant rebound from relaxing certain measures early.

Percentage of people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: VaccinTracker

Jean Castex has set an objective for 40 million getting at least one dose by the end of August.

Difficulties policing the 11pm curfew

As people enjoy the warm summer evenings in bars and cafés, the police have been struggled to enforce the 11pm curfew, which has gradually been pushed back since the 6pm curfew during January and February.

The past week has seen people detained and officers using tear gas to disperse hundreds of young Parisians gathered in the streets in defiance of the curfew.

Last weekend, a gathering in the lawns in front of the Invalides museum in Paris was the third party at the site since Thursday. Other mass parties had to be broken up by police in the Tuileries gardens and on the banks of the river Seine, as young people enjoyed the warm evenings.

READ ALSO: Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running

Sports tournaments have also made sticking to the curfew increasingly difficult.

Tennis fans watching the men’s semi-final at the French Open were given a special dispensation to stay out after curfew, but the government said there would be no more exceptions.

On Tuesday, bars were packed with people watching the Euro 2020 football match between France and Germany, which started at 9pm and ended shortly before 11pm, which meant the streets were busy with fans returning home after the curfew.

Mask wearing in the heat

With France in the middle of an early summer heatwave, and temperatures set to reach 33ºC on Wednesday, mask-wearing outdoors has become increasingly uncomfortable, with many choosing not to wear it in the street at all.

Some scientists have argued that that wearing a mask outdoors, where the risk of transmission is very low, is unnecessary.

But what about the Delta variant?

Despite the worrying Delta variant causing the UK to postpone its lifting of lockdown restrictions, France still has a low number of Covid-19 cases linked to the variant.

Health Minister Olivier Véran revealed this week that between 2 percent and 4 percent of French cases were linked to the variant. However, he warned that was also the case a few weeks in the UK.

Authorities fear the Delta variant could become dominant in France but there are reasons to be optimistic, not least the fact that France’s vaccine roll out is on schedule.

Member comments

  1. You didn’t mention the main reason for lifting the curfew and mask regs…lifting the “Voting” publics morale in preparation for Sundays elections.

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Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).