Face masks should become mandatory again in enclosed spaces in France, say doctors, as new health figures suggest that the Covid epidemic is “restarting” with hospital resources under strain.
Masks could also be helpful against other seasonal epidemics, including flu and bronchiolitis, both of which are seeing a rise in case numbers.
The latest figures from health authority Santé publique France (SPF) suggest that there has been an “increase in the spread” of Covid, and an increase in the number of hospitalisations over the previous seven days. This has followed “four weeks of decrease” said SPF.
Last week, 4,210 people were hospitalised for Covid, a rise of 6% compared to the week before.
The number of cases and hospitalisations are far lower than the peaks seen at the start of the year (19,000 hospitalisations), but rising numbers come as the health service is under considerable strain due to epidemic levels of winter flu and bronchiolitis.
The latter, which mainly affects infants, has arrived earlier and more severely than usual, causing some doctors to fear the impact of a “triple epidemic”. This has led one expert to join calls for a return to wearing masks and taking other barrier precautions.
Dr Benjamin Davido, infectious diseases specialist at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches, told BFMTV: “We have gone from one extreme to the other. We have removed all the signs recommending that people wash their hands, keep their distance, and keep wearing a mask against Covid.
“We have not explained enough to people that these recommendations are also effective against other respiratory viruses.”
Dr Davido’s comment comes a month after the health committee recommended that masks be worn again in enclosed spaces. At the start of November, the Académie nationale de médecine also recommended that people start wearing surgical masks again, in enclosed public spaces.
However, so far, former health minister and current government spokesperson Olivier Véran told BFMTV this weekend that “there are no plans to make it obligatory to wear masks on public transport”.
But in its latest bulletin, SPF advised people to wear masks in busy, enclosed spaces, and to get their Covid booster vaccinations as soon as possible.
The groups who are eligible for the additional booster dose are:
People over 60
Care home residents
Levels of vaccination booster takeup are still low. Among those aged 60-79, just 31% are considered protected (vaccination within the past six months), and just 12% of those aged 80+, said SPF on November 21.
Lauriane Kadoche, a pharmacist in Paris, said that she had noticed more patients coming into the pharmacy, worried again about Covid.
She said: “Lots of ill people are coming into the pharmacy, asking for lateral flow tests, and who want to get vaccinated. They are also asking for news on the flu epidemic, which they fear could be stronger than in other years.”