Face masks should once again be mandatory in enclosed spaces in France, doctors say, as new health figures suggest the covid epidemic is “resetting” with hospital resources under pressure.
The masks could also be useful against other seasonal epidemics, such as influenza and bronchiolitis, both of which are experiencing a surge in the number of cases.
The latest figures from the health authority Santé publique France (SPF) suggest that there has been an “increase in the spread” of Covid and an increase in the number of hospitalizations over the previous seven days. This has followed “four weeks of decline,” SPF said.
Last week, 4,210 people were hospitalized for Covid, an increase of 6% compared to the previous week.
The number of cases and hospitalizations is much lower than the peaks seen at the beginning of the year (19,000 hospitalizations), but the numbers are rising as the health service is under considerable pressure from epidemic levels of winter flu and bronchiolitis.
The latter, which mainly affects infants, has arrived earlier and with more seriousness than usual, which makes some doctors fear the impact of a “triple epidemic.” This has prompted one expert to join calls to go back to wearing masks and taking other barrier precautions.
Dr. Benjamin Davido, specialist in infectious diseases at the Raymond-Poincaré de Garches hospital, told BFMTV: “We have gone from one extreme to the other. We have removed all signs recommending people wash their hands, keep their distance and still wear a Covid mask.
“We have not sufficiently explained to people that these recommendations are also effective against other respiratory viruses.”
Dr. Davido’s comment comes a month after the health committee recommended that masks be worn indoors again. In early November, the Académie nationale de médecine also recommended that people return to wearing surgical masks in enclosed public spaces.
So far, however, former Health Minister and current government spokesman Olivier Véran told BFMTV this weekend that “there are no plans to make wearing masks mandatory on public transport.”
But in its latest bulletin, SPF advised people to wear masks in crowded, enclosed spaces, and to get a covid shot as soon as possible.
The groups that are eligible for the additional booster dose are:
Acceptance levels of booster vaccination remain low. Among those aged 60 to 79, only 31% consider themselves protected (vaccination in the last six months) and only 12% of those over 80, said SPF on November 21.
Lauriane Kadoche, a pharmacist in Paris, said she had noticed more patients coming into the pharmacy, again concerned about covid.
She said: “A lot of sick people are coming to the pharmacy, asking for lateral flow tests and wanting to get vaccinated. They also ask for news about the flu epidemic, which they fear will be stronger than in other years.