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Face masks: How EU countries have embraced face coverings in pandemic to bring down the Covid infection rate

The i 2 days ago Graham Keeley

As Britain was warned by a Government adviser to wear masks again to stop the spread of Covid-19, flu and colds this winter, across the Channel, EU nations are generally keener to put on face coverings to fight the pandemic.

Susan Michie, a member of scientific advisory board Sage, criticised ministers for failing to enforce the wearing of masks in indoor crowded spaces and said face coverings were vital for keeping people out of the health service over the winter.

Here are the rules for, and attitudes to, the wearing of face masks in four EU countries.

Spain

Spaniards must cover their faces if they are inside or cannot guarantee a social distance of more than 1.5 metres. Masks ceased to be compulsory outside in June but many people still wear them.

Carolina Darias, Spain’s health minister, said last week that despite a fall in coronavirus contagion rates, mask restrictions indoors would remain until spring next year.

Maria Cardona Ribas, who has had a transplant, receives a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 in Ibiza, Spain (Photo: Zowy Voeten/Getty Images) © Provided by The i Maria Cardona Ribas, who has had a transplant, receives a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 in Ibiza, Spain (Photo: Zowy Voeten/Getty Images)

Spain’s 14-day Covid-19 contagion rate fell to 46 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to health ministry data on Tuesday – the lowest since July 2020.

Some 77 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated. The fall in the infection rate combined with the success of the vaccination programme have led to the reopening of discos and sports stadiums with no limits on capacity.

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“Without a doubt, the combination of wearing masks and the fast vaccination programme has brought the coronavirus contagion rate down in Spain,” Àlex Arenas, an expert in public health at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, told i.

“It is the most efficient and cheap way to combat the pandemic. People have the habit of wearing masks outside and inside.”

He added that research showed “once people stop doing things like wearing masks it is hard to get them to go back”.

France

France lifted the requirement to wear a face mask outside in October but it is still compulsory to cover your face inside.

Most people abide by the law when they go to supermarkets, bars or meetings inside but few wear face coverings outside, according to anecdotal evidence.

Last week, armed French police boarded a London-bound Eurostar and arrested a British passenger after a train manager accused him of wearing the “wrong type of mask”.

The unidentified man, who was taken off the train after it made an emergency stop in Lille, northern France, protested he had not done anything wrong.

A poll published earlier this month for Le Parisien newspaper showed that 74 per cent of French workers want the government to lift the enforcement of mask-wearing inside, but the health ministry says it is too soon.

At present, mask-wearing is compulsory in all jobs where workers are indoors and work vehicles carrying more than one person at a time. In outside workshops, masks are not necessary unless there is insufficient ventilation.

Italy

Masks stopped being compulsory in the summer and only a minority now cover their faces in open areas, but the law still requires Italians to wear them inside.

“I would say only 20 per cent of people wear masks outside. People put them on when they are approaching crowded areas,” Luca Zanini, a journalist with Corriere della Sella newspaper based in Rome, told i.

A man readjusts his mask as he waits to vote at a polling station for the municipal elections in Rome (Photo: Filippo Monteforte/ AFP) © Provided by The i A man readjusts his mask as he waits to vote at a polling station for the municipal elections in Rome (Photo: Filippo Monteforte/ AFP)

Businesses warned of chaos in Italy as all workers will be required to show a coronavirus pass from Friday – one of the world’s toughest anti-Covid-19 measures, and one which has caused riots.

More than 85 per cent of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, making them eligible for the Green Pass certificate.

But according to surveys, about 2.5 million of Italy’s 23 million workers are unvaccinated and could be denied work from 15 October.

Ireland

It is compulsory to wear masks in shops and on public transport and but it has never been a legal requirement to wear masks outside.

At the height of the pandemic, most people wore masks when they went out but now the majority of the population have done away with face coverings outside. In offices, workers still wear masks but can remove coverings when they are at their desks.

The Irish government will remove the last Covid-19 restrictions on 22 October but across the border in Northern Ireland and in Scotland and Wales it is still compulsory to wear masks inside.

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