Coronavirus: France moves to make masks compulsory in the workplace

Masks will be a "systematic" addition to indoor work spaces in France. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - France is preparing to make face masks compulsory in the workplace, the government said on Tuesday (Aug 18) as it moved to add open-plan work areas to a growing list of places where people have to cover up to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

By the time people in France return to work after the August summer holidays, masks will be a "systematic" addition to indoor work spaces, including meeting rooms, corridors, change rooms and open-plan offices, Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne told AFP on Tuesday.

Ms Borne met labour and business representatives on Tuesday to discuss the new measure, which she said was based on the advice of the government's public health council.

It took into account a growing scientific consensus that the coronavirus is transmitted not only in large drops projected when a person coughs or sneezes, but also in smaller ones that can remain suspended in air breathed out by infected people, she said.

France has already made mask-wearing obligatory on public transport and in enclosed shared public spaces such as shops and government offices, but has left their use in offices to the discretion of employers until now.

This was criticised in an open letter by a group of medical experts published in the newspaper Liberation, comparing the virus accumulating in the air of enclosed rooms to "cigarette smoke".

"And the more the virus accumulates in the air - either because of a long exposure time or because of a large number of excreters - the more we risk contamination," they said.

The experts urged the government to make masks compulsory in all confined spaces, offices and classrooms and to "unambiguously encourage" remote working.

Many French towns and cities, including Paris, have been using discretionary powers to make masks compulsory outdoors as well, mainly at food markets, in busy streets and around tourist hot spots.

Ms Borne said the government will continue recommending telework for people in areas with active virus circulation.

The coronavirus outbreak has claimed more than 30,400 lives in France so far.

Since a two-month lockdown ended in May, new infections have been increasing in recent days and the numbers of people admitted to hospital and to intensive care have been rising as well.

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