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France accelerates compulsory wearing of face masks over COVID-19 fears

People, wearing protective face mask, line-up outside the testing site in Mayenne department REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

France accelerated plans on Thursday to make it compulsory to wear protective face masks in enclosed public spaces because of concerns about COVID-19, and the Mayenne region made it obligatory immediately in several places.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday mask-wearing would be mandatory in places such as shops from Aug. 1 because of signs the new coronavirus was “coming back a bit”.

But Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday the order would take effect next week. Until now, it has been mandatory to wear face coverings outdoors only on public transport and in public spaces where social distancing is not possible.

“We were considering implementing (this measure) on August 1 because, once again, we are acting preventively and not as a matter of emergency”, Castex told the Senate.

“I have heard and understood that this deadline appeared late or raised some questions, so the decree will come into force next week.”

Some politicians and doctors had called on the government not to wait until early August because of concerns about the pandemic.

Official figures show the number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities has slowed in France since late May, but the novel coronavirus has killed more than 30,000 people in the country and is spreading again in some areas.

The Mayenne prefecture in northwestern France said the wearing of face masks was now compulsory in its main city, Laval, and five other municipalities – Bonchamp-lès-Laval, Changé, L’Huisserie, Louverné and Saint-Berthevin.

“In Mayenne, the situation is problematic today”, French health minister Olivier Veran told France Inter radio.

Macron also said on Tuesday that he wanted COVID-19 testing available for everyone, without having to be referred by a doctor, and said expected job losses because of the pandemic posed a major challenge.

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