France has increased its testing capacity and carried out 664,000 tests over the past week, the health ministry said, but the rate of positive cases has also been increasing. It stood at 3.3% for the week between 11-17 August, up from 2.1% previously and more than double the 1.5% rate seen at the end of July.
Officials say the virus is now mostly circulating in major cities among the young, who typically do not have serious symptoms, and this is why the number of people being treated in hospital has not changed much.
Nevertheless three more cities – St Etienne, Nice and Toulouse – have made wearing a mask mandatory in their city centres. Mask-wearing is already required in busy areas of the capital Paris.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has ruled out any postponement of the new school year, which begins on 1 September, although he conceded there “could be local exceptions”.
Pupils aged 11 and above will be required to wear masks when they are moving around schools in confined spaces and in classrooms when they are face to face and separated by less than a metre.
Meanwhile Spain, Germany and Italy have also recorded their highest numbers of cases since late April or May.
Many of the new Spanish cases are reportedly among the young, while German cases are said to be driven by a lack of social distancing and travellers returning from abroad.
The UK – which has Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll – registered a further 1,182 cases on Thursday.