Amid its eighth wave of Covid-19, the return of mandatory masking in certain places is “under study” by French health watchdog, Covars.
Face-coverings have remained compulsory in a few specific places – such as hospitals – but since May have only been “strongly recommended” on public transport.
Now experts disagree on whether a return would be possible. The question is legally complicated, as France is no longer in a state of emergency, and the law that allowed the government to make masking mandatory (le loi relative à la gestion de la sortie de crise sanitaire) expired on August 1st.
Since May, masks have been ‘recommended‘ rather than ‘required’ on public transport and only remained compulsory in hospitals and other health centres.
In the airplanes, masking “remains nevertheless recommended”, as indicated on the Paris airport website.
Trains have similar messaging – as SNCF also says wearing masks are “strongly recommended in our stations and in our trains.” The Paris public transport service RATP also “strongly recommends” that passengers wear masks, although in reality few do.
Only hospital directors, doctors and pharmacies have retained the right to require masks to be worn.
According to RFI, obligatory masking “could be made compulsory again in the form of ministerial or prefectural decrees, depending on the evolution or degradation of the health situation; if a new problematic variant of the virus is identified.”
However, legal experts disagree on the methods France could use make masks obligatory again, as well as how likely such a measure would be.
Legal expert Guillaume de Durat told Le Parisien that he does not see any legislative avenue to reinforce compulsory masking, outside of care settings.
De Durat speculated that if Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wanted to require face coverings on public transport, she might be able to do so by passing an order using “general police power with the risk that the Council of State may oppose it.”
“There are many opponents to wearing the mask, so there would inevitably be appeals,” he said.
Another legal expert, Serge Slama said that up until now, compulsory face coverings have been required because a legal text authorised doing so (the law placing France in a public health emergency).
However, the legal framework that replaced the loi relative à la gestion de la sortie de crise sanitaire does not mention masking requirements. Additionally, passing a new law could be complicated with the current parliamentary layout, as President Macron’s coalition does not have an absolute majority.
Lawyer Caroline Lantero told Le Parisien that “it would be necessary to really face a real public health threat for [compulsory masking] to be validated.”
The Covid-19 situation in France
On Tuesday, the French health authority, Santé publique France, recorded 21 percent rise in positive coronavirus tests when compared to the previous week.
Hopsitalisations are also on the rise – 49 percent higher on Tuesday, October 4th when compared to last week’s figures.
As a result, the Minister of Health, François Braun, said on Tuesday evening that the new public health watchdog, Covars (Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires), which replaced the Scientific Council, was studying the return of mandatory masking in certain places, such as public transport.
Brigitte Autran, the head of Covars, said that France should “take cues from Asian populations who have been wearing masks for a very long time” and that doing so “should become a kind of civic gesture.”
While she said there is “no obligation” currently, Covars of the mandatory mask in certain places was “under study” in the new scientific committee.
What is the government recommending?
Several French government officials, including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, have recommended continued mask-wearing.
Borne said over the summer that people should wear masks “in closed spaces, where there are many people, particularly in [public] transport.”
In addition to masking, the French government is tackling rising Covid-19 rates by beginning its fall vaccination campaign for vulnerable populations.
As of October 3rd, dual-strain Omicron adapted vaccines became available for use amongst certain groups. You can read more if you qualify HERE.
What about France’s neighbours?
Germany decided to make it compulsory to wear a FFP2 mask in long-distance trains on October 1st.
In addition, each German state has the possibility to impose it in other types of public transport, such as the subway and the bus.