PARIS (AFP) - Face masks are no longer required in metros, trains and planes in France from Monday (May 16), as French authorities lifted one of the last remaining health measures imposed since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.
Health Minister Olivier Veran announced last week that masks would no longer be mandatory on public transport and in taxis, following the large drop in Covid-19 cases recently.
"I feel free. Breathing properly wasn't that easy with masks," said 26-year-old Parisian Jaceula Madimba in the metro on Monday morning.
France began easing its strict face mask rules in February after a winter surge in cases. But for weeks, masks were still required at the workplace or in schools until infections declined further.
Face masks are also no longer required for air travellers flying to many European Union destinations, but Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain are among countries keeping the mask rule.
Mr Veran cautioned that the new measure did not mean the pandemic was over, and insisted that the mask remained recommended.
"I think wearing masks is still necessary just to be safe, for my friends and family," said Ms Aurelia Imbert, an engineer on her way to the Czech Republic for work from Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Masks, as well as a health pass proving Covid-19 vaccination, are still required for entering hospitals.
The pandemic appears under control in France for now, but some experts have warned against writing it off to the history books, as a new variant may yet emerge.
People with weak immune systems have also expressed their concerns.
"I will continue to wear the mask and invite everyone to do so. We protect each other mutually, let us think of the immunosuppressed," said French epidemiologist Mahmoud Zureik.
France has recorded just over 147,000 Covid-19 deaths since the outbreak emerged.
Elsewhere in Europe, Spain still requires masks to enter hospitals, care homes and on public transport, while in Belgium, masks are necessary only on buses, trams and trains.
In Italy, masks remain obligatory in hospitals and on public transport, and also in cinemas, theatres and schools.