People in France should wear masks again in crowded areas, particularly if they are on public transport, to help tackle a new COVID-19 wave, according to the country’s health minister.
The increase in coronavirus cases is being fuelled by new variants, with 17,601 fresh infections over the past 24 hours – the highest Monday figure since 18 April.
It comes as the number of people in England’s hospitals who have tested positive for COVID jumped by more than a third in a week.
The latest wave in England is being driven by the newer Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, which now make up more than half of all fresh COVID cases.
Since the end of last month, new infections in France have been rising steadily, with the seven-day moving average of daily new cases more than quadrupling between 17,705 on 27 May and Monday’s 71,018.
However, that total is still five times lower than the 366,179 record at the start of the year.
French health minister Brigitte Bourguignon said it was people’s “civic duty” to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces, such as public transport, workplaces and shops.
“I’m not saying it should be mandatory but I do ask the French people to put the mask on in public transport,” she told RTL.
“I’m not merely advising it, I’m asking for it.”
French vaccination chief Alain Fischer said last week the country was in the middle of a new COVID wave, like other European countries.
And he said he was in favour of bringing back mandatory face mask-wearing on public transport.
The number of people being treated in French hospitals for the disease fell to a six-month low of 13,876 on 18 June but has since increased by 1,223 to 15,099 – the highest for four weeks.
There is traditionally a two-week delay between cases and hospitalisations and then a similar delay over COVID-related deaths.
France’s COVID fatalities rose by 48 over 24 hours to 149,406.
In England’s hospitals, 7,822 patients had coronavirus on 27 June, up 37% on the previous week, NHS figures show.
It is the highest total for nearly two months but is still well below the peak of 16,600 patients during the Omicron BA.2 wave of infections earlier in the year.
BA.5 is growing about 35% faster than BA.2 while BA.4 is growing 19% faster – meaning BA.5 is likely to soon become the dominant COVID variant in England, UK Health Security Agency research suggests.
However, there is “currently no evidence” the two variants lead to more serious illness than previous variants.
In Scotland, 948 hospital patients with COVID were recorded on 19 June, up 27% from the previous week.
Wales has seen patient numbers jump by 41% week-on-week, reaching 417 on 24 June.
The trend in Northern Ireland is uncertain, with numbers rising in early June before levelling off in recent days between 320 and 340.