A new mandate to wear masks outdoors took effect on Friday in Paris as part of an effort to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant in the French capital, which has become the center of the country’s latest wave of coronavirus infections.
To combat the new wave, the police in Paris announced that people ages 11 and older would be required to wear masks outside and in all public places, with some exceptions allowed for people exercising or riding bikes. No end date for the measure was given.
France dropped its first mandatory outdoor mask policy in June, about a year after it was imposed, in a move that symbolized for many the retreat of the pandemic. About the same time, it lifted curfew measures and reopened bars and restaurants.
Other French cities and regions in recent days have also reimposed mandatory mask-wearing outside, following similar moves by several European countries, including Spain, Greece, and Italy.
France has registered two straight days of more than 200,000 new coronavirus cases, it’s most ever, which the health minister, Olivier Véran, as compared to a “tsunami.” The spread of Omicron — which studies indicate is more resistant to vaccines, though it may produce less severe illness — has threatened to undermine France’s pandemic social contract, which has made a return to normal life contingent on vaccinations.
In Paris alone, the infection rate has reached “an unprecedented level” of 2,000 per 100,000 people, or about double the national average, according to a statement released by the Paris police on Wednesday.
Even as infections rise again, the French government has been reluctant to take more restrictive measures, like the lockdowns and curfews that turned Paris into a ghost city last year. But it did cancel its New Year’s Eve celebration, which was to include fireworks over the Champs-Élysées. Large public parties have also been banned.
Yves Buisson, an epidemiologist at the French National Academy of Medicine, told the franceinfo radio station on Thursday that “all precautionary measures are essential” in today’s situation.
“Transmission happens less outside than inside,” he said, “but it’s not nonexistent, especially in areas with high population density.”