French schools return to mask rules as Covid cases rise

Despite the scrapping of the national face mask rule for most indoor areas, some schools in France are again requesting that pupils and teachers wear masks in class as Covid cases rise.

Children wear facemasks during lessons in school
(Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP)

Just weeks after the government ended the national requirement for pupils and teachers to wear masks in schools, many establishments are reintroducing them, because cases of Covid-19 are rising in France once more.

The number of cases on Thursday, March 24th, 10 days after the mask mandate was lifted, reached 148,635, compared to 145,560 a day earlier,  and 101,747 seven days previously, according to Santé publique France.

On March 14th, France scrapped the face mask rule for most indoor public spaces, with the exception of public transport, hospitals and health centres.

However, it continues to be a Ministry of Health recommendation, in particular for those who have tested positive, contact cases, anyone at risk of developing the serious form of the illness, and health professionals.

Meanwhile, hygiene gestures remain in place as cases rise – probably due to the sub-variant BA.2 which has become the majority in France. 

The increase in cases has prompted some schools to demand that pupils and teachers wear masks. In many instances the instruction is limited to specific classes where a pupil or teacher has tested positive. 

School principals in Paris have sent emails to parents, recommending that masks are reintroduced for children who are contact cases for seven days. “We will not police the return of students to class but are counting on your civic sense,” according to an email seen by Le Parisien.

The latest figures show 52,669 students were infected with Covid-19 as of March 18. 

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the newspaper that the imposition of mask rules could only be enforced by prefectoral decision in the event of a local cluster of cases – which means that schools are relying on the goodwill of parents, staff and students.

But some schools have nevertheless decided to reinstate the measure across the board. According to Le Télégramme, the students of three colleges and high schools in Brest have since March 17th, been obliged to wear their masks in classes and in the yard.

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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).