France and England are cracking down on mask use. Amid a slight Covid-19 resurgence, France from August 1 will make masks compulsory in shops and all other indoor public spaces. England meanwhile will enforce mandatory face covering in shops and supermarkets from July 24.
Where Will Masks Be Required In France?
The new rules will apply to shops, bars, hotels, restaurants and “all spaces open for public services, namely hospitals, town halls, prefectures, libraries, even the Post Office,” BFM TV reports. Add to that places of worship, banks, sports establishments, museums, concert halls and cinemas. “In short, all of establishments that welcome the public behind a counter.”
So how does this work in restaurants? Customers at French cafes, bars and restaurants are already obliged to wear a mask, except when they are seated at the table. So masks are a must while arriving and leaving. Or going to pay the bill, or use the toilets.
France Ready For Second Wave Says Macron
The 14th of July move follows advice from doctors in the past days, urging France to take the path of European neighbors such as Belgium. Since July 11, the latter threatens to slap €250 fines on those who flout mask rules in indoor public places. These include shops, banks, courts, places of worship, casinos and conference rooms.
“You have to wear a mask … the virus is not on vacation,” France’s former public health director–and infectious disease specialist–William Dab, said this week.
Calls for masks to be made mandatory, not only on public transport, have been growing louder. In an open letter published in Le Parisien on Saturday, a group of medical experts expressed concern about increasing public carelessness on social distancing and other Covid measures.
“Wearing a mask is an important condition to limit the spread of the virus,” they urged. “Let us not forget so quickly that we have probably lived through, and are still going through, the greatest health catastrophe of our century.”
French President Emmanuel Macron seems to have heeded the advice. “We will be ready in the event of a second wave,” he said in a Bastille Day television interview, pledging to step up testing and tracing efforts. “Faced with that, we must anticipate and prepare.”
Since bars, restaurants, hotels and beaches all started to reopen in June, after a nearly three month lockdown, Covid infections have surged a little. Nonetheless new daily cases are currently at around 288.
The decision on masks in “confined spaces” follows huge confusion–and inconsistencies–about exactly where face coverings are required. Macron acknowledged the situation had been “a little erratic”.
Now he has moved towards greater clarity. “Masks will soon be mandatory in all enclosed public spaces,” he tweeted. Though only “in the coming weeks”. That’s not soon enough for many observers. “Why wait?” Scientists, commentators and politicians immediately asked.
Mask Compliance Needs Clear Messages
How can many of us not be confused by mask etiquette. Here in Paris the rules vary wildly between one shopping centre and another. Even among supermarkets and department stores of the same brand.
Two Monoprix stores a kilometre apart, or in different suburbs, may have completely opposing policies. That uncertainty has reigned since the lockdown started to ease up on May 11. Many people have been waiting for the government to take a firmer stance.
Meantime across the Channel, people have been calling on the UK government to “clear up the mask muddle”, amid so many mixed messages.
“Clear and consistent public messaging” is vital in the uptake of masks according to Britain’s national academy of sciences, the Royal Society. “If guidance is inconsistent people will follow their own preferences,” says President Venki Ramakrishnan.
Current rules vary across Britain. In Scotland, masks are already compulsory in stores.
The confusion ended on Monday evening, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson pronouncing mandatory masks in shops. Lack of compliance means fines of up to £100 ($191).
What About Enforcement?
Mask respect has been pretty strong in France–people follow the rules. But without a uniform requirement, many people go mask-free. As they do in English stores, where masks have until now been recommended only. There are still lots of question-marks as to how new mask laws will be enforced. (Police are expected to hand out on-the-spot fines).
On public transport, compulsory face masks came into effect in England from mid-June. “The authorities say 90% of people abide by it but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some are still not wearing a face covering and there are many examples of people not wearing the coverings correctly,” reports the BBC.
According to The Telegraph, 91% of commuters adhered to the mask rules in the last week of June. Inspectors will soon be out in force to make sure they all do.