French primary schools reopen as Covid 3rd wave eases

Paris (AFP) –


Millions of French children returned to the classroom on Monday as primary schools reopened after a three-week shutdown ordered to combat a severe third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Kindergartens also reopened as President Emmanuel Macron's government began easing restrictions imposed when France entered its third nationwide lockdown on April 3.

Secondary schools will reopen in a week's time and restrictions on people travelling beyond a 10-kilometre (six-mile) radius of their homes will also be dropped on May 3 as the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care falls.

Non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting venues are expected to be allowed to reopen from mid-May, depending on the health crisis.

On a visit to a primary school in Melun, about 50 kilometres southeast of Paris, Macron on Monday said that an unpopular nighttime curfew starting at 7:00 pm would also soon be "pushed back a bit".

Macron had prided himself on keeping schools open throughout a second wave of infections in the winter, arguing that schools help combat social inequality.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, French schools were closed for only 10 weeks, compared with 28 weeks in Germany and 47 in the United States, UN figures show.

Macron, who is expected to seek re-election next year, drew fierce criticism however for rejecting calls by medical experts to order a third national lockdown in late January.

Two months later he finally relented, but the latest confinement period has been more relaxed than others, with people encouraged to spend time outdoors.

Figures show the situation starting to stabilize, with the number of patients in intensive care flattening out below 6,000 in recent days.

The peak of the third wave "appears to be behind us", Prime Minister Jean Castex declared last week.

A total of 102,887 people have died in France from the coronavirus. After a slow start, the vaccination campaign is gaining pace with over 14 million people now given at least a first dose.