Pharmacies in France will now sell face masks

Fabric, washable, reusable masks will be available for the general public from pharmacies in the coming days

Pharmacies in France are now legally allowed to sell fabric masks that cover the nose and mouth to the general public, after a U-turn decision from the government.

Until now, pharmacies had been banned from selling any kind of mask to the public, even with a prescription.

But now, a decree from Saturday April 25 - published in le Journal Officiel - authorises pharmacies to sell “non-healthcare masks”, meaning that they are made of fabric, and are washable and reusable.

They will not be suitable for healthcare workers or frontline staff, who will still take priority for masks offering a greater level of protection, such as those known as “FFP2”.

The most basic, simple, fabric masks will be sold for €2-€5 each, said the minister for health.

Those of a higher quality, which will withstand washing at 60°C up to 50 times or more, will cost around €15-€20 each, said Philippe Besset, president of national pharmaceutical union association, la Fédération des Syndicats Pharmaceutiques de France (FSPF).

Pharmacies will not yet have a stock of masks however, as they will only be able to place orders for them starting today (Monday April 27).

“So people should not go to pharmacies from Monday to buy masks,” warned Mr Besset.

The FSPF president also called for pharmacies to be able to distribute masks free of charge to the most vulnerable in society, especially if wearing masks becomes compulsory in the coming weeks.

He said: “[The aim is that] price does not become a barrier for people who are socially fragile.”

The pharmacy decree comes as government scientific advisory council le Conseil Scientifique published a recommendation on Sunday April 26 that masks should be worn in public, and said that they should be “available for the majority of the population, and distributed as a priority to people in regular contact with the public”.

Junior health secretary Agnès Pannier-Runacher told newspaper Les Echos magazine on Friday (April 24) that “the supply [of masks], through both French production and imports, will increase rapidly to more than 25 million washable masks per week, by the end of April”.

She also said: “Several distribution methods have been identified to allow as many French people as possible to access them. The possibilities are very wide.

“The government will contribute to providing masks for the general public as soon as possible through the most suitable distribution channels. The first distribution will be made from May 4.”

Wearing a mask has not been proven to provide any real protection for the wearer, but they may help stop ill people - especially people who may be ill but do not yet have any symptoms - from spreading the virus themselves.

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