French Prime Minister Jean Castex has responded to a steep increase in infections with a series of measures including increased testing and plans for compulsory face-coverings in Paris.
The number of “red zones” where the virus is in active circulation has risen from two to 21.
If France did not act fast, the spread could become “exponential”, he warned.
A number of European countries are seeing a new surge in cases, and Germany is also planning tighter rules.
French officials recorded 5,429 new infections on Wednesday and Mr Castex said Covid-19 was “gaining ground” across the country.
There was an “undeniable resurgence of the epidemic”, he said, with a national rate of 39 positive cases per 100,000 people, four times the rate of a month ago.
Masks for Paris
Promising to do everything to avoid another widespread lockdown, the prime minister said wearing a mask would become mandatory in the capital.
While individual streets and areas in the capital already have rules on wearing face-coverings, the prime minister said he had asked the head of police and Mayor Anne Hidalgo to work towards a city-wide requirement. Mr Castex’s team later clarified that a final decision had not been taken but it “appears most likely”.
Paris is already a red zone, along with the southern area of Bouches-du-Rhône, where France’s second city Marseille made masks compulsory from Wednesday evening.
There was also a question of masks for the “inner ring” of areas surrounding Paris, said Mr Castex. They have now been classed as red zones too, along with a broad expanse of the southern coastal fringe and the Gironde area around Bordeaux.
Masks will also become part of normal life for French schoolchildren aged 11 and over. The World Health Organization has recommended use of masks in school from the age of 12. Masks are already required in most enclosed public spaces and will be mandatory in workplaces from next month.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Olivier Véran has promised to step up Covid testing to reach a million tests a week in September, with the aim of making them available to “anyone who needs one and anyone who wants one”.
What has Germany decided?
Masks are also a key part of Germany’s tougher restrictions aimed at curbing a renewed rise in cases. Although Germany has not seen the scale of Covid-related deaths as many other Western European countries, the federal government and 16 states have reached a draft deal on new measures:
- A minimum €50 (£45) fine will be slapped on anyone breaking rules on face-coverings – in shops, public transport or elsewhere; but one state in the north-west is still holding out against a fine
- Big events will be banned until the end of the year, although regions will be exempt if they have a low infection rate and participants are limited to those areas
- That means there is little chance of spectators returning to Bundesliga football matches
- There will be an end to free tests for holidaymakers returning from high-risk countries after 15 September. Such travellers already have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Health minister Jens Spahn argues that German labs are reaching capacity and testing should be more targeted. But Volkmar Weckesser, whose Centogene company conducts tests at Frankfurt airport, told the BBC that “we are not even close to reaching capacity”.
Meanwhile, a group called “Querdenken” (Think outside the box) is challenging a Berlin ban on a march on Saturday against Covid-19 restrictions. The protest has already seen 22,000 people sign up. A march on 1 August attracted around 20,000 people, made up of mainly Covid-deniers and far-right activists.