As coronavirus cases surge, Paris mandates masks in public

Paris authorities have mandated that face coverings must be worn in all public places in the city from Friday as coronavirus cases in the French capital continue to climb.

The top officials of three surrounding regions also signed on to the orders, meaning that people in a vast swath of nearby areas must also be masked in all public.

Cyclists and those exercising outside will be exempt from the rule, police said, as well as children under the age of 11.

The virus is actively circulating in about 20 percent of France’s regions and masks will now be required for everyone in Paris starting Friday — but the government is determined to reopen schools next week, get workers back on the job and kick off the Tour de France cycling race on Saturday.

Showing a map of the country’s new “red zones,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday urged local authorities to impose new restrictions to slow infections and prevent another economically devastating national lockdown.

“The epidemic is gaining ground, and now we must intervene,” Castex said. France “must do everything to avoid a new confinement.”

He acknowledged that the rising cases this summer — attributed mostly to people going on vacation with family and friends — came earlier than authorities expected.

France is now seeing more than 50 positive tests per 100,000 people in Paris, Marseille and other areas. The government announced Thursday that 21 of 101 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.

The number of virus patients in French hospitals remains low so far despite the jump in infections but it has been steadily rising in recent days.

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The government’s message Thursday was mixed — while expressing alarm about growing cases, Castex insisted that “living with the virus” is the new national mantra and he wants people to resume work in September as broadly as possible.

To protect vulnerable populations, the prime minister urged people not to hold family parties and said “grandpa and grandma” shouldn’t pick up their grandchildren from school.

A woman wearing a protective face covering jogs through the French capital Paris. Cyclists and those exercising outdoors will not be covered by the new rules mandating masks in public. LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP – Getty Images

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said there’s no reason to dial back plans to send France’s 12.9 million students back to class next week or to reopen cafeterias.

“All children should return to school,” he said.

Blanquer also said letting the Tour de France cycling race go ahead is “a sign that we can continue to live, and the resilience of our society.”

Already delayed from its traditional early July start, cycling’s premier event sets off from Nice on Saturday and will crisscross the country for more than three weeks. Fans, tourists and residents usually mass along the route for a beloved event that is a prime advertisement for France’s beauty and traditions, organizers this year are urging all spectators to wear masks.