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
Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP

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.

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Sick patients in France lacking GP to be contacted before summer, minister says

The French minister of health promised that chronically ill patients who aren't registered with a doctor will be contacted by the summer.

Sick patients in France lacking GP to be contacted before summer, minister says

François Braun, France’s Health Minister, said on Monday that all chronically ill patients without a general practitioner will be contacted before the month of June with “concrete solutions”.

There is a general shortage of medécins généraliste (GPs or family doctors) in France, with some areas classed as ‘medical deserts’ where people find it almost impossible to register with a doctor.

The health minister said that people without access to primary care doctors are “deprived of a regular follow-up” and that this is “no longer acceptable” for those with chronic illnesses. These groups will be contacted via Assurance Maladie before the summer, he added. 

Braun’s statements came a few weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to healthcare workers outlining the ways he is seeking to overhaul the health system in the country.

READ MORE: How Macron intends to revive France’s ailing health system in 6 months

In his speech, the president promised that the “600,000 patients in France who suffer from a chronic disease would be offered a primary care doctor – or at least a ‘reference team’ – by the end of the year.”

Macron also discussed plans establish a “Conseil national de la refondation (CNR – or National Council for Reconstruction)” to build a “roadmap” for solutions in the fight against medical deserts.

Approximately six million French people are estimated to lack a primary care doctor, and 600,000 of those people suffer from long-term diseases, according to Franceinfo.

READ MORE: What to do if you live in one of France’s ‘medical deserts’

This issue is aggravated by the fact that almost a third of French people live in medical deserts – or geographical zones where healthcare providers and general practitioners are severely lacking compared to the rest of the country. Generally, this refers to healthcare in the community such as GPs or family doctors, dentists or community nurses, rather than hospitals.

Medical desertification mainly affects rural areas with an ageing population – though they’re also developing in some towns and cities (including some Paris suburbs) as retiring doctors are not replaced and younger medics establish themselves in more dynamic zones, both in terms of economy and activities.