France drops mask-wearing rule outdoors as Covid-19 cases fall

Compulsory 11pm curfew will also be removed earlier than expected

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 15, 2020 Tourists wearing protective face masks walk past the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre) designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, at the Cour Napoleon, in Paris. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on June 16, 2021 that masks will be no longer compulsory outside in France from June 17, 2021. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION
 / AFP / BERTRAND GUAY / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION
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France is set to end mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and will lift an eight-month curfew as daily Covid-19 cases fall faster than expected.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday the 11pm curfew would be halted on Sunday – 10 days earlier than expected.

He said masks would no longer be required outdoors but they would still be compulsory on public transport, and in stadiums and other crowded places.

"We're on the right track – let's keep up our efforts," he said.

"The health situation is improving faster than we had anticipated, everywhere in mainland France."

Across the English Channel in Britain, where the vaccination process is further ahead, a plan to lift most remaining restrictions has been put back a month to July 19 because of the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

While the variant accounts for more than 90 per cent of new cases in the UK, French authorities said it only represented up to 4 per cent of cases in France.

France's seven-day moving average of new cases, which was above 40,000 two months ago, stood at 3,500 on Tuesday.

French health experts say the pandemic can be considered under control if the rate is below 5,000.

Mr Castex said pressure on French hospitals had decreased significantly in recent months, with the number of people in intensive care units down by 116 to 1,965 on Tuesday.

In March, French doctors said the health system was close to collapse, with about 29,000 people in hospitals suffering from Covid-19.

About 60 per cent of France’s adult population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose.

On Tuesday, France opened vaccinations to 12 to 18 year olds as part of a push to protect the nation as restrictions ease.

Mr Castex said the government aimed to have about 35 million people fully vaccinated by the end of the summer, representing a little more than half of the population.

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