French Prime Minister Jean Castex declared 19 more areas around the country as coronavirus “red zones” Thursday, bringing the total to 21.
France’s two biggest cities, Paris and Marseille, are already classified as red zones, meaning areas where the virus is “actively” circulating and the number of active cases has exceeded 50 per 100,000 people.
In these areas, authorities are able to make masks compulsory outdoors and close bars and restaurants, measures that Marseille has already taken.
“We have been for a few weeks in a phase of resurgence of the epidemic [with an average country-wide incidence rate of] 39 positive cases per 100,000, four times more than a month ago,” Castex added.
The PM warned: “These figures must be interpreted with caution; we are testing a lot more people. But this ramping up of tests does not explain everything: the percentage of positive people is increasing. As after the end of the lockdown on May 11, the percentage of positive results was 1%, now it is above 3.7%.”
He added that the coronavirus “circulates a lot among young people,” especially the 20-30 age group. “They present positive rates close to 6% … The asymptomatic are in [a] high number within this population.”
Castex added that the government is ready for worse-case scenarios, with plans for local or national lockdowns in place, but said the country’s objective “is to do everything to avoid going back to a generalized lockdown.”
As a general rule, masks are going to be mandatory in France in any enclosed space where several people gather. In schools, all students over 11 years old and all teachers will be required to wear face coverings.
Fifty million free masks have been distributed to low income citizens and their children, and free masks are also available in pharmacies for people with medical conditions who have a prescription.
Castex said labs are currently testing 830,000 people weekly, and France is hoping to ramp up testing to 1 million tests per week in September.
In terms of enforcement, the PM said that on average 700 people are fined every day in the country for not wearing a mask.