Covid-19 in France

French teachers threaten strike action over lack of protection from Covid

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer visits a classroom in a primary school in La Ferte-Milon, northern France, as part of the deployment of a nationwide Covid-19 saliva test campaign in schools, on March 22, 2021.
French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer visits a classroom in a primary school in La Ferte-Milon, northern France, as part of the deployment of a nationwide Covid-19 saliva test campaign in schools, on March 22, 2021. AFP - FRANCOIS LO PRESTI

The main trade union representing French primary school teachers has called for a strike in Paris over what it says is the government's failure to protect staff and pupils from a third wave of coronavirus infections spreading through the country.

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The government has prided itself on keeping schools open during most of the epidemic, while some neighbouring countries have closed theirs for months at a time, but it is coming under mounting pressure to act as cases surge.

The latest government data, published on 19 March, showed 15,484 schoolchildren tested positive for coronavirus in the preceding week, the equivalent of 0.13 percent of all pupils.

On Tuesday President Macron announced France would speed up its vaccine campaign with the opening of huge vaccine centres at the beginning of April. Teachers, he said, could be vaccinated by mid or end of April.

But primary school teachers continue to question the government's determination to keep schools open.

"The (education) minister can congratulate himself that schools have stayed open ... but at what price?!" the SNUipp-FSU said in a statement.

The strike would affect Paris and its outer areas, although no date has yet been set, the union said.

Last resort

The call for a walkout reflects growing concern among many health workers and teachers that the government is not doing enough to slow the spread of Covid-19 after President Emmanuel Macron's refusal so far this year to impose a third nationwide lockdown.

Closing schools would be an act of last resort, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told public radio on Wednesday.

Valerie Pecresse, who heads the Ile-de-France region encompassing Paris and its surrounds, has proposed bringing forward the Easter school holiday by two weeks to 2 April.

The Ile-de-France, which accounts for nearly a fifth of France's population and 30 percent of economic growth, is one of the hardest hit parts of France.

Crackdown on gatherings

A nightly curfew is in place and restaurant, bars, museums and cinemas are closed across the country.

Last week the government introduced a “light lockdown” in 16 départements including the Paris region and large parts of the north. Non-essential stores are closed and people’s movement limited to within a 10km radius of their homes.

No limits were placed on the amount of time people can spend outdoors but the number of people allowed to gather in a group is limited to six.

With infections rocketing, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said he had instructed police to crack down on large outdoor gatherings, issuing fines to groups of more than six outside, particularly in parks, gardens and riverbanks.

The crackdown applies to all of France, not just those areas recently placed under the new restrictions.

Protests, large families, work gatherings and funeral ceremonies are exempt from the rule.

Three additional départements are set to be added to the list of areas facing restrictions.

According to the latest data published by Covidtracker: 4,651 people in France are in intensive care (up 10 percent on previous week), 29,280 people tested positive for Covid (up 17 percent).

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