France has made face masks mandatory in all closed public spaces amid a new wave of Covid-19 epidemics.
Masks were already mandatory on public transport, but from Monday they must also be worn in places like shops.
The Minister of Health, Oliver Véran, warned that France had between “400 and 500 active clusters” of the virus.
President Emmanuel Macron declared a “first victory” over the virus in June and ended the national state of emergency, but local epidemics persist.
Cases are increasing in the north-west and in the eastern regions, particularly in the north-west of the department of Mayenne.
France, one of the most affected countries in Europe, has recorded more than 200,000 infections and more than 30,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
What is happening in France?
Face masks are now mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, including stores where previous owners could decide for themselves whether customers should wear coverings or not. Anyone caught without a mask is liable to a fine of € 135 (£ 123; $ 154).
Authorities in Mayenne began calling for mandatory mask restrictions last week as cases skyrocketed in the department.
The public health agency Santé Publique France issued a warning for Mayenne after crossing the alert threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in one week. For the whole of France, this figure is around 10 per 100,000 inhabitants.
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Other regions are also worrying the authorities. Brittany in north-western France has a reproduction number of 2.6 – which means that each infected person transmits the virus to almost three others. The eastern Vosges department is also experiencing an increase in cases, while the R number in Marseille and Nice is believed to be 1.55.
Mr Véran plans to visit Mayenne later on Monday. While the country is “very far” from a second wave, he told France Info that there were “worrying signs of an epidemic resumption”.
“We have to remain vigilant,” he said, noting that people were tired of the restrictions and wanted to resume normal lives. “All options are on the table” if local epidemics worsen, he added, including regional blockages or even the return of national restrictions.
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Overall, the epidemic is globally under control throughout France. But a number of public health officials have warned of a possible second wave, and the government has started stockpiling hundreds of millions of masks.
And elsewhere in Europe?
Although countries have eased restrictions to contain the spread of the virus, many countries across the continent have been forced to impose local lockdowns or even roll back national measures as infections once again spiked.
The northeastern region of Spain, Catalonia, has asked millions of its citizens to stay at home, new cases threatening to overwhelm local health systems.
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French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the country could close its border with Spain due to the growing number of local epidemics.
Infections are also on the rise in the Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina reported nearly 300 new cases on Sunday and a number of politicians fell ill with the virus – including former President Dragan Covic and the prime ministers of its two entities, the Federation and Republika Srpska.
Serbia, Albania and Montenegro are also reporting a sharp increase in confirmed cases. Montenegro currently has around 195 cases per 100,000 population – the highest number in the region.