France Covid-19: Prime Minister Castex lays out new measures
No free masks for all, masks required in theatres and cinemas, and more details on the “relaunch” plan: these were among the main points made in a key interview by French Prime Minister Jean Castex this week.
Mr Castex announced the measures in an interview with news source FranceInter.
His announcements come after President Macron held a defence council meeting this week to establish further measures to fight against the Covid-19 crisis. The objective has been described as “the effects of confinement...without confinement”.
Culture: Go to the theatre and cinema, but wear a mask
The Prime Minister announced that masks would be mandatory in all theatres and cinemas, in a new decision taken by the defence council this week.
He added: “Yes, I will say to the public, go to the cinema, go to the theatre. You are risking nothing.”
Similarly, Mr Castex confirmed that an “unprecedented” €2 billion of the €100 billion "relaunch" plan would be dedicated to culture.
He said: “The cultural sector has really suffered in this crisis. That means that we are firstly thinking of culture as an economic activity, and that, if there is a French quality, it’s that to live with this virus will also mean being cultured with this virus.”
Events with more than 5,000 limited
Yet, the Prime Minister said that he could no longer authorise events with more than 5,000 people to go ahead, in departments classed as “red” (where the virus is circulating significantly).
He said that even in other departments, events of this size could be “totally forbidden” depending on the situation.
Mr Castex also called for the public to take “responsibility”, and that the basis of democracy was “the responsibility of citizens”.
He said: “We must explain to the public, including the ‘anti-maskers’, that masks are extremely useful. If they do not believe it for themselves, they should think about others. Everyone has vulnerable people in their environment.
“I call on people aged 75 and over, the youngest among us, people with difficult conditions, people who have severe diabetes...people who are especially vulnerable. Protect yourselves.”
But the Prime Minister added that even though the virus is “still here”, we are “not back at the situation that we had in the months of April or May”.
Back to school and work (but no free masks for all)
He urged parents to send their older children back to school in collèges and lycées this rentree (new school year), and said that we are “back at work”.
Mr Castex added that when it comes to workplaces, he was in favour of offices encouraging working from home wherever possible.
He said: “We are back at work...but this can absolutely be via home working. That is a positive structural effect of this crisis...we are starting to look at home working differently. We might even be able to say that home working is better.”
But the Prime Minister reiterated that despite masks becoming mandatory from September onwards in these establishments - and in all workplaces - the government would not be handing out free masks to all.
He said: “There is no country in the world that has made all masks free. There are cases where free masks are given by the state; the first, any older person who is vulnerable to the virus according to medical criteria, if their doctor has prescribed it.
“Secondly, the state will give masks to people who are precarious due to their income, who have children. We have just distributed 50 million masks to three million families, representing nine million children.”
This week, a government member added: “We want to ensure that no person is stopped from wearing a mask due to financial reasons. [But] I do not think that there is a country in the world that is giving out free masks permanently to the majority of its population.”
‘Relaunch plan’ for September
The government’s €100 billion “relaunch plan” is set to begin on September 3, Mr Castex said.
The update came after the government announced that the plan would be postponed to allow for schools to reopen first, and to enable the health situation to be managed before the economic plans are set.
The Prime Minister added that €40 billion of the €100 billion total would go towards consolidation of European debt. He said: “We must speak up for Europe when it does good work. This is not simply a financial question; it is also about the rehabilitation of Europe.”
Mr Castex acknowledged that mask-related violence had increased since masks became mandatory in many areas. He said that the government was taking a “two-pronged” approach; firstly, “educators” on the street, and secondly, “actions taken after these assaults”.
He said that more than 550 jobs were being created at the ministry of justice, and that the budget would be increased.
France and Covid-19: The latest situation
The latest figures from Santé Publique France (Tuesday August 25) reported 3,304 more cases of Covid-19, 22 more deaths, and 33 new localised clusters, in the previous 24 hours. This represents a rise from the 1,955 reported in the 24 hours before that (Monday August 24), but a fall in the numbers reported last week, which breached the 4,000 threshold multiple times.
In total, there are 4,600 people in hospital currently due to Covid-19 infection, and 410 in intensive care - up from 399 people on Monday.
The total number of people to have died in France is now at 30,544.
The country continues to stay alert to the rising cases; in Marseille and surrounding areas of Bouches-du-Rhône, the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region has made masks mandatory outside, and all bars and restaurants are now required to close from 23:00 (and not reopen until 06:00).
The measures, which come into force from tonight (Wednesday August 26) and last until at least September 30, were introduced after a sharp rise in the number of cases in the department.
Marseille now has an incidence level of 177 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the department in general a level of 33 per 100,000. The “alert level” is 50 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Wearing a mask outside and in crowded public spaces has already been mandatory for everyone aged over 11 , in the first seven arrondissements of the city since August 15.
At a press conference, regional prefect Christophe Mirmand said: “The situation is sufficiently alarming that extra measures may be necessary....to avoid a return to a local state of health emergency, which would be particularly damaging.”
Echoing Mr Castex’s words this week, Mr Mirmand said: “We are above all encouraging prevention, in an approach that rests on individual responsibility.”