Public place mask-wearing rule challenged in French court

The French department of Bas-Rhin must now adapt its “disproportionate” rules ordering mask-wearing in all public places, after two hospital workers took local authorities to court.

3 September 2020
A woman wearing a mask with police in Strasbourg. A rule enforcing mask-wearing in all public places in the Bas-Rhin department has been challenged in French court.Local authorities now have until September 7 to issue a new, modified order on mask-wearing in the department.
By Joanna York

The two hospital workers are from the department (in Grand Est), where mask-wearing was made mandatory in all public areas on Saturday, August 29.

The legal challenge claims the rule is “an infringement on personal liberty".

It states that, rather than the blanket rule currently in place, people should be able to go mask-free at times when areas are not “densely crowded with people” or when “local circumstances that favour the spread” of coronavirus are not present.

COLUMN: Nabila Ramdani: Masks have dramatically changed daily life 

Bas-Rhin authorities must issue new order

The courts in Strasbourg have given local authorities until September 7 to issue a new, modified order on mask-wearing in the department. If they fail to respond, the original order - which was supposed to be in place until September 30 - will be suspended.

Under the current rule, only children aged under 11 years old, disabled people with a medical certificate, and people doing “physical, sporting or artistic” activities are exempt from wearing a mask in Strasbourg and the 12 other towns in the Bas-Rhin department.

The rule was brought in by local prefect Josiane Chevalier following a steady rise in cases in France. 

But the hospital workers who have challenged the order claim “it is not clear from the file documents that in the 13 communes affected by the rule there is a permanent strong concentration of population or particular circumstances susceptible to contribute to the spread of Covid-19".

Opponents ‘not anti-maskers’

The hospital workers, psychologist Vincent Feireisen and doctor Christian Chartier, have said they are “not anti-maskers”.

In a statement they said they opposed the order as it was was “too general” and “disproportionate”.

The said: “In a healthy democratic society, adhesion to barrier gestures should not be obtained out of fear of sanctions or indoctrination.

“Certainly, there is the risk of contamination, certainly there is the necessary principle of precaution. But this principle cannot go as far as to impose that someone walking their dog at midnight must wear a mask when there is no one else in the street.”

In May they also contested (without success) a municipal order that enforced mask-wearing in Strasbourg’s old town centre.

 

Opposition can be used elsewhere in France, as Covid-19 cases rise

The lawyer for Mr Feireisen and Mr Chartier has said the grounds for the successful challenge in Strasbourg could “obviously be used elsewhere in France” where mask-wearing is mandatory.

This comes as cases in France continue to rise.

Figures from health body Santé Publique France (SPF) released on September 2 show there were 7,017 new cases recorded in previous 24 hours.

This was a sharp increase on the previous day when over 5,000 new cases were reported, but comparable to numbers from Friday, August 25 (7,319).

The rate of positivity, indicating the percentage of all tests taken that come back positive, is now at 4.3%.

Numbers of hospitalisations due to Covid-19 are also rising, although much less drastically than earlier this year. The latest SPF figures show 22 people were admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national total to 446.

Meanwhile, the Direction Générale de la Santé has said in the past seven days that more than 1 million tests were undertaken in France, thus meeting government objectives.

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