Face masks

French health minister eyes an end to outdoor masks this summer

French Health Minister Olivier Véran (R) and Nice mayor Christian Estrosi (2ndR) look out across the Mediterranean after a visit to the CHU Hospital in Nice, southern France, February 20, 2021.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran (R) and Nice mayor Christian Estrosi (2ndR) look out across the Mediterranean after a visit to the CHU Hospital in Nice, southern France, February 20, 2021. AFP - VALERY HACHE

France's health minister has said he "sincerely" hopes that people will no longer be obliged to wear masks outdoors or respect physical distance rules this summer, as the number of new Covid-19 cases fell by 20 percent in the past week, with new infection rates soon expected to drop below the 20,000-mark for the first time in months.

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Speaking on Europe 1 radio on Tuesday morning, the Olivier Véran said he was cautiously optimistic about the end of mask wearing in public.

"We know that vaccination protects people against the serious forms of Covid-19, and we think that vaccination limits the spread of the disease and the risk of an epidemic," the minister said.

"When a sufficient number of French people have been vaccinated, we can think about dropping our guard. When the time comes that we can confidently envisage the end of physical separation and the wearing of masks outdoors, we won't wait 24 hours. We'll announce it immediately," he added.

"I sincerely hope that it will happen this summer."

On the question of widening the scope of vaccination to those with additional health complications in the 18 to 54 age group, but without medical confirmation of their health status, the minister said it was a question of common sense, and that he did not think the rest of the population would take advantage of the situation to jump the queue.

"I could have asked four million chronically ill French people to go to their doctor or clinic, add to the confusion in the midst of a health crisis, so that they could get a certificate saying they were sick. Instead, I have decided to rely on people's common sense," he said. 

Véran says the number of injections administered in French vaccination centres has increased by a factor of four over the past week.

The health minister continues to defend the AstraZeneca treatment, saying it is safe and between 70 and 75 percent effective "among those for whom it is recommended".

On the Danish decision to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of the risk of side effects, Olivier Véran said he did not agree with the authorities in Copenhagen.

"I don't share the Danish conclusions," he told Europe 1 listeners. "We have administered the Johnson & Johnson treatment to a lot of people, and there is no reason to change that now."

Last month, the Danish health authorities were the first in Europe to abandon the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, also because of concerns about possible adverse effects.

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