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HEALTH

Will France bring back mandatory mask-wearing?

France's public health watchdog is reportedly "studying" the possibility of bringing back compulsory face coverings on public transport - we look at what happens next and what Covid rules remain in place this autumn.

Will France bring back mandatory mask-wearing?
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne adjusts her face mask during a session of questions to the government at The National Assembly in Paris on July 19, 2022. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

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.

READ MORE: France launches autumn Covid booster campaign with new dual-strain vaccine

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.

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TRAVEL NEWS

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

Injuries and even deaths while skiing in France have seen a sharp rise in recent years - leading the French government to create a new ski safety campaign.

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

The early part of the ski season in France was dominated by headlines over the lack of snow in popular mountain resorts – but, now that climatic conditions have started to improve for skiers and there is at least some snow, the winter sports season is in gearing up to hit full swing.

READ ALSO Snow latest: Have France’s ski resorts reopened?

Heading into the winter holiday season – French schools in ‘Zone A’ break up for two weeks on February 4th, followed on February 11th by schools in ‘Zone B’, while schools in Zone C finish for the vacation on February 18th – the government has launched an awareness campaign highlighting skiing good practice and how to avoid accidents.

READ ALSO What can I do if I’ve booked a French skiing holiday and there’s no snow?

The Pratiquer l’hiver campaign has advice, posters and videos highlighting safety on the slopes, in an effort to reduce the number of accidents on France’s mountains – where, every year, between 42,000 and 51,000 people have to be rescued, according to the Système National d’Observation de la Sécurité en Montagne (SNOSM)

The campaign, with information in a number of languages including English, covers:

  • on-piste and off-piste safety advice (signalling, avalanche risks, freestyle areas, snowshoes, ski touring, etc.);
  • Help and instructions for children explained in a fun and educational way (educational games, games of the 7 families to be cut out, safety quizzes, advice sheets for sledding, skiing, prevention clips, etc.);
  • physical preparation (warm up before exercise, prepare your muscles and stretch well, also how to adapt the choice of pistes and the speed to your physical condition);
  • equipment and safety (helmet, goggles, sunscreen, etc.);
  • marking and signalling on the slopes (opening and marking of green, blue, red and black slopes, off-piste).

There are 220 ski resorts in France, the world’s second largest ski area, covering more than 26,500 hectares of land, across 30 departements.

In the 2021/22 ski season, totalling 53.9 million ‘ski days’, according to SNOSM, emergency services made 49,622 interventions in France’s ski areas, and 45,985 victims were treated for injuries.

The results show an increase in the number of interventions by ski safety services – a rise of 13 percent compared to the average of the five years prior to the pandemic – and the number of injured, up 8 percent. 

A few incidents on the slopes made the headlines at the time, including the five-year-old British girl who died after an adult skier crashed into her in the Alpine resort of Flaine, and the French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who died at the age of 37 after an accident while skiing in La Rosière, Savoie.

In total, 12 people died as a result of skiing incidents in France in the 2021/22 ski season. Three died following collisions between skiers, two after hitting an obstacle, and seven as a result of a fall or solo injuries. SNOSM also reported “a significant number of non-traumatic deaths, mostly due to cardiac problems” on France’s ski slopes.

The injuries due to solo falls – which represent 95 percent of all injuries –  on the ski slopes increased 2 percent compared to winter 2018/2019. Collisions between users fell, however (4.8 percent against . 5.6 percent) as did collisions between skiers and other people, and obstacles (0.7 percent compared to 0.85 percent).

The number of fatalities caused by avalanches, however, is at a historic low over the period 2011 to 2021, in part because of a relative lack of snow – leading to a drop in the number of avalanches and fewer people going off-piste, while awareness campaigns are hitting their mark, according to SNOSM.

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