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
Commuters wearing face masks are seen at a metro station in 2020 (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

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.

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French PM calls on commuters to wear masks as Covid cases rise

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has appealed for people using public transport and in other crowded spaces to begin wearing masks again, as Covid cases rise.

French PM calls on commuters to wear masks as Covid cases rise

Masks have not been compulsory on public transport in France since May, though they remain “strongly recommended”, especially at rush hour. 

Borne’s “appel solennel” (solemn appeal) on Tuesday does not change the rules, it is merely a request to reinstate masks and other hygiene gestures such as social distancing in order to protect French health services, which are dealing with rising Covid cases as well as high numbers of flu and bronchitis patients.

France reported 400 Covid deaths last week. 

Borne told Parliament: “This new wave reminds us that the virus has not disappeared, the epidemic can still strike.”

She called on people to wear face masks on public transport and other crowded areas and to get vaccinated against Covid and flu.

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to over 60s and people with health problems including diabetes, respiratory problems and obesity – find full details here – but, according to Borne, only around 10 percent of eligible people have had the second booster.

The flu vaccine is now open to everyone, although those not in priority groups (over 60s, pregnant women, people with health conditions, health workers and carers) will have to pay around €6 for their vaccine. For priority groups it is free.

When, where and how to get a flu vaccine in France

France has over the past week recorded an average of 40,000 new Covid cases per day, with Borne referring to “an increase of nearly 10 percent in hospitalisations over a week, a 22 percent increase in critical care hospitalisations and 400 deaths from Covid last week.”

The advice from French rail operator and Paris public transport operator remains – as it has since May – that masks are “strongly recommended” especially at peak times, but are not compulsory, while budget bus operator Flixbus has also made a statement “encouraging” passengers to wear masks, especially over the busy holiday period. 

Masks are no longer compulsory in any public spaces in France, although visitors to hospitals and care homes can be required to wear one, while some doctor’s offices and pharmacies retain a mask rule.