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Macron draws criticism on Twitter after removing mask while speaking to students

President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism on Twitter after removing his face mask while talking to students at a college in France.

As he addressed young people at a vocational college in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, the leader visibly struggled with his cloth covering, removing it to have a coughing fit and eventually swapping it for a more lightweight one.

"I'm going to put a lighter mask on because I must have absorbed something from this one," he said.

Social media users called the president out for coughing while he wasn't wearing a face and nose covering, saying this did not respect guidance on measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

They observed that he also touched his new mask and took a glass of water from someone without washing or using antibacterial gel on his hands.

"The president coughs outside of his mask and stretches out his hand to take and return a glass of water straight after... no gel, no handwashing. What can we hope for ??" wrote one Twitter user.

"Macron can't stand the fabric masks sparingly distributed to teachers. However, he only spoke for five minutes with it. What do teachers have to say, who are forced to speak with one sometimes for eight hours per day? That the president is laughing at the world?" wrote another.

However, some brought into question the benefit of wearing a mask — a debate that is currently raging in Europe.

"Washing your hands correctly and regularly and respecting a certain distance would be enough, rather than imposing this 'nasal straitjacket' everywhere," argued one man on Twitter.

It came as France experienced a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, with health authorities on Tuesday recording 6,544 new cases of the virus in 24 hours, which took France's total cases to 335,524.

The country's public health agency reported 39 new deaths in the same time period, making a total 30,764.

France's top administrative court on Sunday upheld the right for local authorities to impose masks in the entirety of a municipality, so long as the area includes multiple zones that are at high risk for the spread of COVID-19.

Rights groups had challenged several such orders that were handed out by prefectures in Lyon, in the east-central region, Strasbourg, in the north-east, and Seine-Maritime, in the north-west.

The French government has made face masks mandatory on public transport and at work across the country to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — but several cities in France including Paris, Toulouse and Marseille have also made them compulsory outside.

This is not the first time Macron's mask-wearing habits have drawn attention — when visiting a primary school in early May he briefly lifted his face and nose covering to show children his face.

He later joked about needing to use hand sanitiser because he touched the mask, which he was not supposed to do.

Macron’s government has been widely criticised for having an inconsistent policy on the civilian use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic. When the virus first reached Europe, industrial-grade masks were requisitioned by the French state and aimed at health workers only.

The government later pushed for homemade cloth masks to be used as alternatives amid a shortage of commercially made medical masks.

Macron was visiting the Auvergne region to promote schemes for "equal opportunities" for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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