Face coverings will now be required across Paris, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned about rising coronavirus cases in Europe ahead of schools reopening.
From 8am on Friday, masks will be compulsory throughout the French capital, Paris‘ deputy mayor Anne Souyris told news channel BFMTV.
Previously, it was only mandatory for people to wear masks in certain outdoor areas where social distancing can be difficult due to crowding, such as the banks of the River Seine.
The rule came in as the government said coronavirus is now actively circulating in about 20% of France’s regions and the country’s R rate – the number of people one person with COVID-19 can infect – has risen to about 1.4.
More than 50 people per 100,000 now have coronavirus in Paris, Marseille and several other regions.
France as a whole has had 70 cases per 100,000 in the past 14 days compared with the UK’s 22.6 cases per 100,000, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The country has had 46,891 cases in the past fortnight, the ECDC found, with new confirmed infections surging above 5,000 on Wednesday for the first time since May.
More than 30,500 people in France are reported to have died with coronavirus, the third highest total in Europe after the UK and Italy, but experts say the true figure is higher.
The French government announced on Thursday 21 administrative regions or departments are now in the “red zone”, where the virus is actively circulating and where local authorities can impose stricter rules on gatherings and movements.
Despite the resurgence, France’s government is still planning to reopen all schools next week, and to welcome workers back to their jobs after summer holidays were widely blamed for spreading the virus.
Prime Minister Jean Castex acknowledged that the rising number of cases this summer came earlier than authorities expected.
France “must do everything to avoid a new confinement” and the government’s slogan this autumn will be learning to “live with the virus”, Mr Castex added.
It came as the WHO’s Europe chief warned about an increase in cases across the continent.
Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said 32 of 55 state parties and territories have seen a 14-day incidence rate increase of more than 10%.
He said it was “definitely an uptick which is generalised in Europe”, but health authorities and other officials are more prepared than in February when the continent saw a large increase in cases and deaths.
Dr Kluge also warned COVID-19 is a “tornado with a long tail” and said an increase in cases among young people could be passed on to vulnerable older people and cause an uptick in deaths.
He said younger people are more likely to come into closer contact with the elderly as the weather cools in Europe.
“We don’t want to do unnecessary predictions, but this is definitely one of the options: That at one point there would be more hospitalisations and an uptick in mortality,” he said.
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