COVID-19 IN FRANCE

Macron defends easing of Covid closures as children go back to school

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, talks with pupils during a visit with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer in a school in Melun, France, 26 April 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, talks with pupils during a visit with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer in a school in Melun, France, 26 April 2021. REUTERS - POOL

French schoolchildren have returned to their classrooms after a three-week break to stem the country’s third wave of Covid-19, even as indicators remain stubbornly high. President Emmanuel Macron visited a school south-east of Paris to explain the decision and voice his support for teachers.

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Millions of children aged 3 to 10 returned to classrooms as maternal and primary schools reopened after a three-week pause designed to halt the spread of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus causing Covid-19.

“School is a way of fighting social inequality,” Macron wrote on social media, emphasising that children out of school increased the incidence of school failure, especially for those unequipped and living in poor conditions for learning at home.

“This is why our children must keep learning, under a strict health protocol.”

The break coincided with a two-week mid-term break, effectively keeping children out of classrooms for three weeks.

Junior high and high schools were to remain closed for another week, with pupils continuing to learn via online classes in the meantime.

Rules for closing classes remained as they were before the pause, meaning pupils would be sent home in the event of a single positive coronavirus test in a classroom.

Saliva testing

Part of the government’s strategy for schools involves rapid saliva tests for pupils whose parents agree to them, starting with 400,000 per week with the goal of attaining 600,000 per week by mid-May.

The government will be hoping the tests and protocol will be enough to keep schools open over the 10 weeks remaining until summer holidays, although epidemic indicators remaining high with nearly 6,000 Covid patients in intensive care beds.

France has sought to keep schools open even as they close in neighbouring countries.

According to Unesco, France was the European country with the fewest weeks of school closure between March 2020 and March 2021, with children out of school for 10 weeks, as opposed to 28 weeks in Germany. In the United States, pupils were absent from the classroom for 47 weeks.

More openings to come

France applied a third round of travel restrictions and establishment closures in late March after suffering a spike in Covid deaths and case numbers.

France’s government is now looking for signs the situation has improved enough to proceed with Macron’s pledge to begin reopening certain business and other sites in mid-May.

Restaurants, bars and cafés, as well as cultural sites including movie theatres, concert halls and museums, have been closed since October.

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said Monday the government was working to establish a precise timeline and protocol for sites to reopen.

(with newswires)

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