French medics say face masks are needed again, especially on transport

The Académie de médecine states that masks would protect against Covid, seasonal flu and bronchiolitis but stopped short of saying they should be ‘mandatory’

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Mask-wearing in France is “becoming necessary again” as effective protection against Covid-19, flu and bronchiolitis over the winter months, the Académie de médecine has said.

The medical authority has recommended the wearing of surgical-style masks in any enclosed spaces that welcome the public and especially on public transport.

It said that masks would help as:

  • An eighth wave of Covid-19 is “stabilising at a high level”

  • An early seasonal flu epidemic is emerging

  • Bronchiolitis among children aged two and under is now at an epidemic level across the country.

Viruses can spread faster in winter and cold temperatures. This is often attributed to the fact that people spend longer inside and therefore cough and sneeze more near each other.

The authority added that it does not believe “mandatory measures”, such as those brought in during the height of the first Covid-19 crises, are required. However, it said that the public could help the situation with preventative behaviour.

The Académie de médecine has no power to make legal or national changes, but does offer recommendations on health policy, which the government may use voluntarily as a basis for its own advice.

In a statement, the academy said: “The health situation does not merit a return to mandatory measures.

“But it does justify a restart of barrier measures, which have become more relaxed since the end of the health state of emergency on July 31, 2022.” This includes the “systematic” use of hand sanitiser in public spaces, it said.

It recommended that FFP2 masks be worn in enclosed public spaces by older people, people with underlying comorbidities, vulnerable people and their carers, as well as pregnant women, even if they are up to date with their vaccinations.

It said that surgical-style masks were recommended in all hospitals, pharmacy dispensaries and care centres as well as enclosed public spaces and especially on public transport in peak periods.

The advice comes as experts said in early October that face masks could once again become mandatory in some spaces, as the ‘eighth wave’ of the virus becomes established.

Although there are currently no rules in place regarding masks, the public is still advised to wear one in crowded indoor public spaces, such as busy train carriages.

Brigitte Autran, president of the Comité de veille et d'anticipation des risques sanitaires (COVARS), which monitors health risks, said at the time: “Today, so far, no one is reintroducing obligatory masks, but everyone is considering it.”

Read more: Return of Covid face mask rules under consideration in France

If the rule is re-introduced, masks could become mandatory in certain areas, such as on public transport. Masks are considered to be an effective barrier against Covid-19, especially if everyone wears one, despite not offering 100% protection.

Antoine Flahault, expert epidemiologist and director of the Global Health Institute at Geneva University, said: “We know very well that masks are not hermetic [a full seal], but if you are infected despite wearing a mask, you will have received a far lower viral load than if you breathed it in [without a mask].”

The most recent figures (November 6) show that there were 26,840 cases recorded in the past 24 hours, up 18.1% compared to seven days ago.

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