Don't talk to each other on public transport, French medics say

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Passengers on French public transport should avoid talking on the phone or to each other other to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus, officials have said.

The France National Academy of Medecine said in a statement that French citizens should 'avoid talking and making phone calls'.  

Academy member Patrick Berche said on national broadcaster BFM TV on Saturday that if there were only three people in a subway car there was no problem.

But he added that if you were only two centimetres away from the next person it made sense not to converse or talk on the phone.

'It is not an obligation, it is a recommendation,' he said.

The comments came as French people in the eastern city of Lyon flocked to shops during the first day of the winter sales. 

After the country came out of a national lockdown at the end of November, non-essential shops have been allowed to stay open but must close at 6pm, in line with a national curfew which is in place. 

On Saturday, officials announced the number of people in intensive care units with coronavirus fell by 16 to 2,896, the first fall in two weeks after having risen by about 20 per day since mid-January.   

Passengers on French public transport should avoid talking on the phone or to each other other to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus, officials have said. The France National Academy of Medecine said in a statement that French citizens should 'avoid talking and making phone calls'

The comments came as French people in the eastern city of Lyon flocked to shops during the first day of the winter sales

The academy is not an official advisory body. It can respond to government questions but also issues recommendations, which sometimes go against official policy.

It's statement read: 'The mandatory wearing of masks on public transport, where social distancing is not possible, should by accompanied by one very simple precaution: avoid talking and making phone calls.'

Masks have been required since May, but travelers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone. 

The academy - which was founded in 1820 - criticised a recent government recommendation to wear only surgical masks in public, rather than masks made of fabric.

'The proposed tightening of regulation (on masks) is based on a precautionary principle but it lacks scientific proof,' the academy said.

In Lyon, French citizens were pictured on Saturday waiting in long queues to get into shops and take advantage of their advertised sales of up to 50 per cent

Shoppers were also pictured filling streets in the city

French people queued to get into shops including Zara as they sought to take advantage of sales

It said that fabric or homemade masks were efficient against the spread of coronavirus as long as they were worn correctly and that most infections took place in situations where people took off their masks.

'Such a change in recommendations concerning a practice with which the entire population had become familiar, risks sparking incomprehension and could revive doubts about the soundness of official policies,' the academy said.

In Lyon, French citizens were pictured on Saturday waiting in long queues to get into shops and take advantage of their advertised sales of up to 50 per cent. 

Shoppers were also pictured filling streets in the city.  

The French health ministry also reported 23,924 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, from 23,292 on Friday and 21,406 last Saturday

A further 649 deaths were announced on Saturday, out of a total of 72,647 since the pandemic began

The French health ministry also reported 23,924 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, from 23,292 on Friday and 21,406 last Saturday.

Overall, France has registered 72,647 confirmed virus-related deaths and just over 3million cases. A further 649 deaths were announced on Saturday.   

The number of people in intensive care is a key measure of a health system's ability to cope with the pandemic.

The government has said it wanted the number of people in ICU to hold steady between 2,500 and 3,000 before considering loosening curfew restrictions, but it had been increasingly steadily since early January. 

The daily tally of COVID-19 deaths in hospitals fell to 230 from 319 on Friday.

Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted earlier on Saturday that France had now vaccinated one million people against the disease.

France's curfew, which starts at 6am, is the longest-lasting in Europe. Restaurants, bars and tourist sites have been closed since October, when the second lockdown was imposed by president Emmanuel Macron.  

However, hospitals in the country are holding more Covid patients than in October. Covid patients are taking up more than half of the available intensive care beds.  

The French Academy of Doctors issued guidance saying people should 'avoid talking or making phone calls' in subways, buses or anywhere in public where social distancing isn't possible. Masks have been required since May, but travelers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone.

Other French experts are urging more dramatic measures - notably a third lockdown.

France's hospitals hold more COVID patients than in October, when President Emmanuel Macron imposed a second lockdown. 

Virus patients occupy more than half of the country's intensive care beds.    

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