Concerns over school reopenings in France as cases surge

People wearing protective masks walk near the Louvre Museum as France reinforces mask-wearing as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country, in Paris, France

Amid a resurgence in the number of coronavirus cases in France, which is fuelling fears of a second wave of the pandemic, there were growing concerns over the reopening of schools across the country from September 1 millions of students will return to classrooms.

Under the government’s updated sanitary plan, the one-metre rule has been scrapped both inside and outside classrooms, Xinhua news agency reported.

Keeping a one-metre distance inside the school is recommended, but it is no longer compulsory when “it is not physically possible or if it means all pupils cannot be received”, according to the plan.

Schools have to “organise activities to limit large groupings of people” by “limiting as much as possible” the flow of pupils and parents in the arrival and leaving rush, the plan states.

Only students above the age of 11 have to wear a face mask. Teachers and other school personnel must wear a mask when social distancing of one metre cannot be maintained, according to the government’s health protocol.

“The protocol is now very relaxed in a way that it becomes obsolete. We know that the virus has resurged and will further increase when students return to schools,” Guislaine David, co-secretary general of SNUIPP-FSU, the country’s main school teachers union, said on Thursday.

“We are not ready to start the school year,” she told BFMTV news television.

Sophie Venetitay, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Secondary Education,argued that the Education Ministry’s instructions no longer fit the epidemic situation.

“This protocol no longer corresponds to the current situation, with a virus circulating more actively. It should be greatly strengthened,” she told Europe 1 local broadcaster.

As of Thursday, France recorded 4,771 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the biggest daily increase since early April.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, a total of 229,814 people have been infected, while the number of clusters being investigated had increased by 33 to 266 from Wednesday, the Health Ministry’s data showed.

“In Metropolitan France, the situation is worrying: all indicators continue to progress and the transmission of the virus is increasing. It concerns all age groups and particularly young adults,” the ministry’s health agency said in its latest update.

It noted that a third of French departments have exceeded the vigilance threshold which indicates the number of infected people per 100,000 inhabitants.

The figure reached 24.3 compared with 4.4 registered in early June, and above the limit of 10 patients.

Nationwide the “R” number indicating the viral transmission rate now stands at 1.33, up from 0.77 per cent reported when France returned to normal life months ago. That means 10 infected people will spread to an additional 13 on average.

The death toll currently stood at 30,434.

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