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French president wants face masks mandatory indoors as infections again on rise

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French President Emmanuel Macron said there were indications that the coronavirus outbreak was "accelerating a bit." AFP/Pool/Ludovic Marin/Files

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that face masks could soon be required in public indoor spaces to curtail the coronavirus outbreak, acknowledging that infections were again on the rise.

His comments, in a television interview marking Bastille Day, came after he oversaw the traditional military ceremony that was drastically downsized because of the pandemic.

"I would like to make masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces," Macron said in the interview, a Bastille Day tradition he had shunned since taking office three years ago.

"We have indications that (the outbreak) is accelerating a bit."

The virus reproduction rate, the "R" ratio, has again risen above one in France, he said, meaning that a single person infected with COVID-19 is likely spreading the disease to others.

Face masks, which have been mandatory on public transport for months, could be required for entering shops, offices, and other indoor spaces from August 1, Macron said.

Macron´s comments come as doctors have warned of a potential second wave of infections, possibly in the coming weeks, which could again overwhelm hospitals and require new lockdowns that could further hammer the economy.

"I advise everyone listening to us to wear a mask as much as possible when they go out, and especially in an enclosed space," he said.

Asked whether France had enough masks in case of a new spike in cases, following massive shortages as the outbre ak worsened in March, Macron said: "We will be ready."

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"We have secured both the stocks and the supply sources, and we are organised on the ground, to allow us to deal with an upsurge, if it comes," he said.

He also said the government´s "massive" recovery plan would reach 100 billion euros ($114 billion), on top of more than 460 billion euros spent so far to limit the economic damage of a costly two-month lockdown.

Priority will be placed on investments to fight climate change, he said, such as increasing freight transport by rail instead of trucks and providing subsidies for improving energy efficiency in homes and public buildings.

"I believe we can build a different country within the next 10 years," he said.

Health workers honoured

Fearing contagion risks, authorities called off the annual military parade along the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris that marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille prison that launched the French Revolution.

Instead, Macron presided over a scaled-down gathering of just 2,000 soldiers — half the usual number — at the Place de la Concorde, where several dozen doctors, nurses, and other careworkers were given pride of place.

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Several were in tears as a military troupe saluted them with the national anthem "La Marseillaise" to close the ceremony, as jets flew over trailing blue, white, and red smoke.

Macron personally thanked several of them, a day after his government agreed an eight billion euro ($8.5 billion) package of pay hikes for nurses and careworkers.

He then donned a face mask to visit with guests who included Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.

Protests

Critics have accused Macron of initially underestimating and then mishandling a crisis that has now caused more than 30,000 deaths in France.

And some health workers say the government has still not done enough — two people were briefly detained after they launched balloons near the Place de la Concorde bearing a banner that said "Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals."

Elsewhere in Paris several thousands of people marched to demand more money and resources for careworkers.

They were later joined at the Place de la Bastille by "yellow vest" anti-government protesters, where some clashed briefly with police who fired tear gas. But no crowds were allowed anywhere near the Concorde square, where just 2,500 guests were invited to a ceremony lacking the usual display of military equipment — only two WWII tanks trundled noisily across the paving stones.

Large portions of Paris will remain closed Tuesday to avoid mass gatherings for the Bastille Day fireworks, and most other cities have called off their shows altogether.


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