By Yiming Woo
LILLE, France (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Jean Castex urged people not to let down their guard in the fight against COVID-19 on Monday, the day one of France's biggest cities ordered people to wear masks outdoors in busy pedestrian streets.
"The virus is not on holiday, and neither are we," Castex said on a visit to Lille, where police on Monday gained the power to levy a 135 euro ($158.45) fine on anyone not observing the new rule.
After strict lockdown measures pushed down infection rates, many European countries are now watching numbers creep back up, a consequence of easing restrictions to try to limit economic damage, and greater social mixing in the summer holiday season.
In many countries, masks are already compulsory in shops and other enclosed public spaces. Now, officials in some place are mandating they also be worn outdoors in some circumstances.
Romania is considering such a move. Greece will make mask-wearing compulsory on the decks of ferries sailing to its islands. The French city of Nice on Monday made wearing masks outdoors compulsory in many areas.
In Lille, anyone moving around in central streets, pedestrianised areas, or parks, has to wear a mask, under the order by local authorities.
On Monday, police officers on bicycles were enforcing the new rules as they patrolled the Grand Place, the historic market square at the centre of the city which is a magnet for tourists.
A Reuters journalist saw police approach several people without masks and remind them of the rules, though none of them was fined.
Maryse Lelievre, a retiree from Lille, had come out equipped with a white fabric mask. "It's a little uncomfortable," she said. "But you have to follow the rules."
($1 = 0.8520 euros)
(Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Heavens)