Why is France lifting Covid curfew and mask rules early?

Prime minister Jean Castex announced on Wednesday that wearing masks outdoors will no longer be a requirement from Thursday, while the curfew will be lifted 10 days earlier than originally scheduled. But why has the government decided to speed up the easing of restrictions?

Why is France lifting Covid curfew and mask rules early?
Prime minister Jean Castex announced on Wednesday that wearing masks outdoors will no longer be a requirement from Thursday, June 17th. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

On June 9th, France reached phase 3 of its reopening plan with bars, restaurants and cafés reopening their indoor spaces and the curfew moving back to 11pm.

The 4th stage, which will see the curfew scrapped entirely, was initially scheduled for June 30th, while earlier this week, Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon told RTL radio that the requirement to wear masks in outdoor spaces could be lifted “as soon as July 1st”.

But on Wednesday the PM announced both rules would end earlier than planned with the curfew that has been in place since December to end on Sunday, whilst wearing masks outdoors would no longer be obligatory from Thursday.

So what made it possible for restrictions to be lifted earlier than scheduled?

A low incidence rate

Case numbers and hospital numbers continue to fall sharply and for the first time since August 2020 the national incidence level (cases per 100,000 of the population) is below 50 (green), as shown in the map below.

Except for a few départements including Pyrenées-Atlantiques, the Paris region and the overseas department of Guyane, most of France is now green.

Image: Covidtracker 

READ ALSO: Delta variant: Is France heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?

The average number of daily Covid-19 cases is down to 3,881, a 40% decrease in just one week. In early April they were up at 40,000 each day.

Number of daily Covid-19 cases. Photo: CovidTracker

The number of daily deaths has dropped down to 55, a 17% decrease in a week.

Number of daily Covid-19 deaths. Photo: CovidTracker

There are currently 1,952 people in intensive care, compared to 6,000 in early April. 

Number of occupied intensive care beds in French hospitals. Image: CovidTracker

Successful vaccine rollout

After a slow start, France’s vaccine rollout has sped up in recent weeks, with more than 550,000 people getting vaccinated most days. 

Forty-five per cent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine whilst just over 23 percent are completely vaccinated. 

It is unclear what level of cover is needed to really impact the spread of infections but with Covid rates low and vaccines being administered at a good pace the government will be confident of avoiding any significant rebound from relaxing certain measures early.

Percentage of people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: VaccinTracker

Jean Castex has set an objective for 40 million getting at least one dose by the end of August.

Difficulties policing the 11pm curfew

As people enjoy the warm summer evenings in bars and cafés, the police have been struggled to enforce the 11pm curfew, which has gradually been pushed back since the 6pm curfew during January and February.

The past week has seen people detained and officers using tear gas to disperse hundreds of young Parisians gathered in the streets in defiance of the curfew.

Last weekend, a gathering in the lawns in front of the Invalides museum in Paris was the third party at the site since Thursday. Other mass parties had to be broken up by police in the Tuileries gardens and on the banks of the river Seine, as young people enjoyed the warm evenings.

READ ALSO: Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running

Sports tournaments have also made sticking to the curfew increasingly difficult.

Tennis fans watching the men’s semi-final at the French Open were given a special dispensation to stay out after curfew, but the government said there would be no more exceptions.

On Tuesday, bars were packed with people watching the Euro 2020 football match between France and Germany, which started at 9pm and ended shortly before 11pm, which meant the streets were busy with fans returning home after the curfew.

Mask wearing in the heat

With France in the middle of an early summer heatwave, and temperatures set to reach 33ºC on Wednesday, mask-wearing outdoors has become increasingly uncomfortable, with many choosing not to wear it in the street at all.

Some scientists have argued that that wearing a mask outdoors, where the risk of transmission is very low, is unnecessary.

But what about the Delta variant?

Despite the worrying Delta variant causing the UK to postpone its lifting of lockdown restrictions, France still has a low number of Covid-19 cases linked to the variant.

Health Minister Olivier Véran revealed this week that between 2 percent and 4 percent of French cases were linked to the variant. However, he warned that was also the case a few weeks in the UK.

Authorities fear the Delta variant could become dominant in France but there are reasons to be optimistic, not least the fact that France’s vaccine roll out is on schedule.

Member comments

  1. You didn’t mention the main reason for lifting the curfew and mask regs…lifting the “Voting” publics morale in preparation for Sundays elections.

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New Covid wave in autumn ‘virtually certain’ say French experts

The head of the government's new health advisory body says that a surge of Covid cases when the French head back to work after the summer break is virtually certain.

New Covid wave in autumn 'virtually certain' say French experts

Immunologist Brigitte Autran, president of new government health advisory body the Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires (Committee to monitor and anticipate health risks) which has replaced the Conseil scientifique, told Le Parisien that “the Covid epidemic is not behind us” and said that the French would have to get used to “living with” the virus.

The Covidtracker website currently shows that the virus is in decline across France, with the R-rate currently at 0.7 – any figure lower than one indicates that the number of infections is falling.

Autran, whose appointment as head of the new body was confirmed on Wednesday, said that the most likely scenario was for a “new epidemic peak in the autumn”, when people return to work after the summer holidays.

“Will it be due to a new variant or the return of cold weather?” she said. “We are not soothsayers, but it is almost certain that there will be a wave.”

“Today, we must go towards living with it,” she added, reintroducing the French to an expression previously used by President Emmanuel Macron and several ministers.

“This does not mean accepting the deaths or the severity of the disease,” she went on, pointing to the fact that health authorities in France still have “levers to activate” to fight the virus. 

Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent (79.6 percent) of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus, she said that, “unfortunately there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated or revaccinated.”

And she said the new body would work with the government to improve the public’s access to drugs, such as Paxlovid, and vaccines.

Vaccination is still open to anyone who has not yet had their shots, while a second booster shot is on offer to certain groups including over 60s, pregnant women, those with health conditions or people who are in close contact with vulnerable people.

EXPLAINED Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

The French government in August voted to end to State of Emergency that allowed it to impose measures like travel bans and lockdowns, although further restrictions could be put in place if cases rise again and parliament agrees.