Face masks that are especially designed for undertaking exercise are being developed in France with the hope that they will enable gyms and sports halls to reopen sooner, as the Covid pandemic continues.
Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu this week said that the project was being studied, as the masks would need to receive approval from the health authorities in France before going to market.
Ms Maracineanu responded to a question about sports masks from Virgile Caillet, member of sports union l’Union sport et cycle (USC), which has condemned the closure of “400 gyms” and sports halls due to the pandemic.
Mr Caillet said: “It is an option that should be on the table, because if it helps us to re-open spaces and start sports activities up again, we cannot ignore the idea of having a mask that is designed for doing exercise.”
The sports minister said: “Work around this sports mask is already a big step forward, and represents cooperation between Decathlon, USC, and the sports ministry.
“We have invested so that [standardisation agency] Afnor can create this norm, which will allow manufacturers to be in a position to make this mask.”
She explained: “[The mask] must find a balance between breathability and necessary protection. I have nothing but support for such a project, as it is a tool to allow us to go back to exercise, and will allow gyms especially to reopen [and allow] users to be as protected as when we go into a shop or use public transport.”
The mask would need to be approved by the health ministry and health authority le Haut Conseil à la Santé publique before it can be used.
The minister gave no dates or details on when the mask may be available nor when gyms might be able to reopen, but she reiterated: “Exercise is an essential activity for the health of the public.”
She said that it was likely the masks would begin tests in the first quarter of 2021, at all stages of the project’s development, with more information on the availability of the masks released as and when it becomes available.”
One of the major designs currently in development is by French sports giant Decathlon.
In a statement, the company said: “The major challenge with this product is allowing the practice of sport with a barrier mask, but bringing the sportsperson a certain ease thanks to a breathable mask, with the same filtration characteristics [of a normal mask].”
RPur is another company designing sports masks for bikers and outdoor sport exercises - which would filter pollution and the virus. It is made of flexible material, with a strap that goes around the entire head - similar to skiing goggles - that would allow the mask to stay put during more rigorous activities.
Matthieu Lecuyer, founder and director of RPur, told news service BFMTV: “This mask is specially designed for sports and offers breathability, because it has a very fine filtration system, while also allowing the mask to be very breathable.”
Currently in France, only outdoor exercise is allowed, with all barrier gestures being followed. Evening exercise has been effectively outlawed, due to the 18:00 nationwide curfew.
This has been questioned by Senator Michel Savin, who wrote a letter that was signed by 72 other senators, asking the Prime Minister to “authorise an exception for exercise being done after the 18:00 curfew, for individual physical activity, as soon as possible, for the entire public”.
The letter said: “The situation is incomprehensible, when during the previous lockdowns, it was always possible for the public to practice an activity outdoors.”
As for gyms, sports halls, and swimming pools, they have been closed since the end of October for adults, and since last week for young people, after a brief period of reopening at the end of November for exterior sports, and mid-December indoors.