Wearing a mandatory mask in Montpellier “violates fundamental freedoms”

In light of the increase in Covid-19 cases, wearing a mask has become mandatory on the streets of several dozen French cities in recent weeks. This is also the case in Montpellier, where a resident is suing the prefecture decree on this measure. Interview with his lawyer, Maître David Guyon.

The wearing of the obligatory mask has continued to be imposed for several weeks in dozens of French cities. In Marseille, the mask will be mandatory from the evening of August 26, and bars and restaurants will have to close at 11 a.m. in all the Bouches-du-Rhône, a department in the south France facing a sharp acceleration of the Covid-19 epidemic.

In Montpellier, masking has been mandatory for people over the age of 11 throughout the city since August 23. But this measure does not appeal to everyone. On August 17, a resident of the city submitted a summary –the first in France– against the decree of the Hérault prefecture governing this measure. The hearing at the Administrative Court will be held on September 10 and may well set a precedent in the event of victory for Montpellier. Interview with his lawyer, Me David Guyon.

France 24: Why does your client challenge the obligation to wear a mask on the streets of Montpellier?

Me David Guyon: The first reason is financial because he is the father of five children. There are seven people in the family, which corresponds to an estimated cost of between 150 and 400 euros per month. Except that people with very little financial means are already negative from the 5th month. Regardless of the cost of the measure, it will actually affect my client’s financial situation significantly. The second reason is that the generalization of wearing a mask over the whole of Montpellier’s territory violates fundamental freedoms.

Do you think the order for the Hérault prefecture creates social inequality??

Yes, of course, there is social inequality. In addition, we can see that there is no special financial support. We are talking about the distribution of masks, but first we must see the conditions under which this distribution takes place, from one city to another it changes enormously. And above all, the distribution no longer corresponds to the masking needs of Montpellier’s residents today.

Now we are not at all within the same framework of obligations as before 11 August, when the mask was only mandatory in closed public spaces. In fact, there is inequality between those who can get a sufficient amount of masks and be able to change them regularly, and those who are socially disadvantaged without financial compensation.

How does this prefectural measure seem disproportionate to you?

The measure was justified for places with a high presence on the streets of Montpellier. But this participation is not the same depending on the day of the week or time of day. So if it is possible to take an effective public health measure and with fewer restrictions on the freedoms, this is what you need to take. In particular in the light of the new decree of 24 August, which means that a mask is worn in open public spaces – that is, in the entire Montpellier municipal area and its built-up areas, which affect a total of 1 million inhabitants.

How’s this going? limits it individual freedoms?

Several individual freedoms are affected. The first is to wear a mask and follow this obligation. If you perform an outdoor sports activity, you are obligated to fulfill this obligation by performing this activity under aggravated conditions, or you do not practice it.

You also have a whole range of prohibitions: when you are on a café terrace, for example, you have the obligation to wear a mask when you are not consuming. You also have the obligation to wear a mask when you smoke, which means that you are in fact prohibited from smoking in an open public space.

How would you qualify this preventative health measure??

It is a political choice. Scientifically enough, the matter is being discussed, we do not know if it is effective to wear a mask in open public spaces. The WHO itself did not recommend wearing a mask outdoors for several reasons, including the risk of self-pollution – people will not change masks regularly, which will be counterproductive.

The government website also indicates that the general mask is not effective if you are polluted, so we will have people who mistakenly believe they are protected and who will reduce barrier gestures. Or people will be polluted and think they can not be pollutants, and they will be sources of infection.

Which solution do you propose instead of the decree you question?

Measures restricting freedoms should only be used when they prove to be the only ones that are absolutely necessary in terms of public health. For example, the Prefectural Decree issued in Béziers during the month of August only applied for the three days and applied only at the place of the festive event, where there would really be a high concentration of the population.

But these measures must be used sparingly, while today it is a type of shallow race with a better bid in terms of public health. Every mayor, every prefect tries to show that he is the best protector of fundamental freedoms, but we end with authoritarian urges or in the end, every time you go out on the street, no matter the place and time of day, you have an obligation to wear a mask .