France Tightens Mask Protocols Amid Gain in Virus Infections

France is walking a fine line between reviving its economy and subduing a flaring coronavirus pandemic as new infections surged to the highest since the end of March.

More than 7,000 new cases were reported on Friday, the most since the nation was under a strict lockdown. For the moment, the number of deaths and hospitalizations remains relatively low, with young adults making up the bulk of new contaminations.

Still, the French government isn’t taking any chances. From Tuesday, masks will be mandatory for companies with groups working in enclosed spaces, Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday on BFM TV. While opera singers are among those who can be granted exemptions, mask-wearing is becoming entrenched in daily life. Cities from Paris to Marseilles are making masks compulsory, even outside, while students over 11 years old will have to cover their faces when returning to school next month.

President Emmanuel Macron is trying to avoid another nationwide lockdown, but cautioned he couldn’t entirely rule it out. That comes as the government plans to unveil another recovery package next Thursday, after the economy shrank by 14% during the second quarter.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said last week the virus’s reproduction rate, which shows how many people one Covid carrier infects, rose to 1.4, from 0.7 in May. However, the number of patients being hospitalized remains far lower than the peak of the pandemic, and the government said it has stockpiled enough drugs, respiratory machines and masks for the health system to cope.

On Saturday, the number of new Covid-19 cases in France rose by 5,453 and by 5,413 on Sunday on the back of a more intensive testing campaign. But the worry is that the surging infections of the past few weeks will translate into a spike in deaths and hospitalizations as the summer comes to an end.

In the south of France, bars and restaurants in Marseilles must now close at 11 p.m.

Some things remain sacrosanct. The Tour de France started in Nice on Saturday after a two-month delay. Still, with strict health protocols in place, the cyclists’ Grand Depart was watched by just 100 people. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe captured the yellow jersey after winning a sprint finish on Stage 2.



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