The French government is now recommending that people wear surgical masks in public because they offer better protection from COVID-19 transmission than fabric face coverings, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday.
France already requires masks to be worn in public places, but until now has not made recommendations about the type of masks. French authorities are worried they could be hit by new, more contagious variants of the virus.
“The recommendation that I make to the French people is to no longer use fabric masks,” Veran told French broadcaster TF1.
Veran also said it was very unlikely that restrictions on ski resorts — a hotspot for the virus at the start of the pandemic — would be lifted next month.
That effectively rules out a return to skiing in time for the February school holidays, normally the last peak skiing period of the season.
Veran said that the government could not rule out a tightening of coronavirus restrictions if the situation with virus transmission deteriorates.
“We could be forced to take tougher measures than those that the French people dealt with this autumn… That could go as far as a lockdown if the situation were to require it,” he said.
France has reported over 71,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began. It is now at 35% of its peak infection rate, according to Reuters data, well below its neighbour, Britain, which is at 70%. French schools are still open, and non-essential shops are allowed to trade.
However, French public health officials say they have detected a rise in transmission rates in the past few days and they are also wary of the spread of new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 which are prevalent in other countries.