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Nice mairie in court over requirement to use masks

A leading French rights organisation is taking the city of Nice council to court over a new bylaw obliging everyone to use masks in public places from today.

The Ligue des droits de l’homme is being heard at the Nice administrative court this afternoon, contesting the new law which requires the use of masks when out and about in public as the first stage of deconfinement gets under way.

In April the Ligue won a similar case against the mairie of Seaux, in the southern suburbs of Paris, which had wanted to impose mask-wearing.

In that case, top administrative court the Conseil d’Etat ruled against the mairie saying mayors should stick to the national framework on confinement rules and not impose extra ones unless there was some essential local reason for it.

The Ligue also last month went to court over a Nice bylaw imposing a 20:00 curfew in certain selected city districts, however the Nice administrative court ruled in favour of the city council and the Ligue did not appeal the case further.

The vice president of the Ligue, Maryse Artiguelong, said: “It is not that we have anything in particular against the mayor of Nice, but we think there s no reason for him to pass this kind of bylaw when the mayor of Sceaux’s law was annulled.

“It s the government which gives the instructions for the protection of the population when it comes to wearing masks, and the mayor can’t go beyond what the government decides unless there are very particular circumstances.

“For example, if there was a certain market, where it was dangerous, the mayor could ban holding this market without wearing masks, but it must be specific.”

She added that she finds the details of the bylaw, which restricts the obligation to wear a mask to between 8:00 to 20:00, confusing. “Apparently there’s no danger after 20:00 – perhaps the virus is afraid of the dark?”

Ms Artiguelong said it is too soon to know if their case is likely to succeed. They will wait for the outcome this afternoon and then if necessary take a decision about a possible appeal to the Conseil d’Etat.

She said she could understand, to some extent, that Nice had taken matters into its own hands after mixed messages and changes in position from the government, which originally did not recommend mask-wearing at all.

“However we consider that imposing mask-wearing everywhere is too extreme, and that it should be for the government to decide.”

The website of the city council today states on its Deconfinement page under a heading of 'Obligatory wearing of masks': "In order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 it will be obligatory from May 11 and from 8:00 to 20:00 to wear a protective mask covering the nose and mouth for all people liable to move around and/or circulate in the public space."

The rule applies in Nice to everyone from age 11 up, until June 2 (when France is expected to further relax its Covid-19 confinement rules).

A spokeswoman for the city of Nice council said the bylaw does not in fact oblige wearing a mask in public at all times, but people must at least carry one with them and put it on "in case of contact with others". 

“The city of Nice is the only French city to have given two [washable] masks to all of its citizens, with the aim of protecting the population,” she added. “In this very unusual period we must be guided by the principle of precaution.”

The spokeswoman said the decision at Sceaux was taken during the confinement period, so the context is not no longer the same, especially as all residents have now been supplied with free masks.

The rules in Nice are also more precise and less generalised than the law that was cancelled in Sceaux, she said.

The wording of the Nice bylaw also states that it is required because the city and the Alpes-Maritimes department have had a low infection rate so far, which means its population lacks collective immunity and is therefore especially exposed to the risk of a new wave.

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