A coach taking 47 British holidaymakers home from a school skiing trip rolled into a ditch in northern France on Sunday, killing a teacher and injuring 23 people, officials said.

"/> A coach taking 47 British holidaymakers home from a school skiing trip rolled into a ditch in northern France on Sunday, killing a teacher and injuring 23 people, officials said.

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ACCIDENT

Teacher killed in British school trip crash

A coach taking 47 British holidaymakers home from a school skiing trip rolled into a ditch in northern France on Sunday, killing a teacher and injuring 23 people, officials said.

Six people were said to be seriously hurt, including a 13-year-old girl who was in a critical condition in hospital in Reims, they said. Most of those on board were children.

The driver, who is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel when the coach crashed in the early hours of Sunday, has been detained, a local prosecutor said.

The British Solus travel coach was on a school trip and carrying 29 children from a school in Alvechurch, just south of Birmingham, and 18 adults in addition to two drivers, the Foreign Office in London said.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: “Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with everyone involved in or affected by the tragic coach crash in Northern France earlier today.

“The French authorities are investigating the accident and we are working closely with them.”

Burt said the British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, had “seen many of the affected passengers this afternoon and has assured them that we are doing all we can to help them recover and get home.

The deputy ambassador would accompany some Britons back home Sunday, he added, and they would continue to assist those who were on the coach and their loved ones back in Britain.

Burt also thanked French emergency services “for all they have done”.

The family of 59-year-old teacher Peter Rippington said they were “devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher”.

They were still concerned about the health of his wife Sharon, who was also injured they added. Their daughter Army had escaped with minor injuries.

The Interski Snowsport school which organised the trip said it was “saddened and distressed” by the accident.

It said the coach “veered from the motorway before coming to rest on its side at the foot of an embankment”.

The injured were taken to hospitals in Reims and Chalons.

The coach was the only vehicle involved in the crash, which happened at around 3am (0200 GMT) on a motorway near Chalons-en-Champagne. 

The road was partly closed for about four hours as 100 firefighters, 20 police and four emergency teams helped the victims.

Some 25 passengers are being treated for shock, the prosecutor said, adding that as many as possible would be repatriated on Sunday.

They were taken to the small nearby town of Fagnieres, but a rescue vehicle was expected in the crash area late Sunday afternoon to bring home those judged fit to travel.

The prosecutor said the driver, who was slightly injured, had tested negative for drink or drugs.

Local officials said a second British coach that came upon the accident had taken the victims on board to shelter them from the rain.

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EDUCATION

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents

The number of school and class closures in France has increased, the education minister reported on Wednesday, but the government has relaxed the rules for parents sending children back to class.

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents
Children over 11 in France have to wear masks during the school day. Photo: AFP

A total of 81 establishments and 2,100 individual classes have closed after discovering Covid-19 cases on their premises.

The number was a rise on the figures last week when 28 schools and 524 individual classes were closed.

“We have around 1,200 new Covid cases among pupils compared with last week,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the LCI channel on Wednesday.

“We shut down a class as soon as there are three cases,” he said.

Blanquer noted that the closures represent just a small fraction of the 60,000 schools across France, calling the beginning of the new school year “the best possible given the health crisis.”

 

French officials have warned nonetheless that new restrictions might be required to stem a worrying increase in coronavirus cases since August.

IN NUMBERS: How fast are France's Covid-19 rates increasing?

No more official sick notes

Despite the surge in cases registered in schools, children with Covid-19 symptoms will no longer need to provide a doctor's sick note (une attestation) to return to class, Blanquer told BFMTV on Tuesday evening.

Instead, parents will need to fill in what in French is called an attestation sur l'honneur, a written document signed by the parent, stating either that the child tested negative for the virus, or a doctor has ruled out that the child has Covid-19.

READ ALSO: The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus 'attestation')

This followed a series of complaints from medical establishments across the country that they were overwhelmed with demands for sick notes and that parents were sending children with very light symptoms such as runny noses to get checked up.

According to the new rules, children who are identified as contact cases must get tested for the virus seven days after their last contact with the confirmed case. If the result comes back negative, the child can go back to class provided that a parent has provided a signed written attestation saying that the test came back negative. No proof for the test result will be required. 

A child with Covid-19 symptoms can also return to class if this attestation indicates that a doctor has ruled out the virus as cause for the symptoms, without providing any proof for the medical appointment.

The new health protocol will be updated and published on the education ministry's website shortly.

READ ALSO: The French school vocab parents need

 
'Chomage partiel'

Parents affected by the school closures can access to the partial unemployment scheme bolstered by the government at the beginning of the lockdown in March to help businesses foot their employees' salaries to prevent mass layoffs.

Those concerned will “benefit from income reimbursement from the first day of their stoppage of work, and at the latest until the end of the period of isolation,” the health ministry said in a statement.

Only one parent per household will be eligible for the help scheme, and only if they can document that their child's school or nursery closed down due to Covid-19, or that their child has been identified as a contact-case.

Higher education 

Late Tuesday, the University of Montpellier in southern France said it had suspended classes at its medical school after some 60 students tested positive after a party.

The University of Rennes in western France also suspended classes for second- and third-year medical students this week after 83 tested positive.

The government has placed 82 of the country's 101 departments on red alert, and officials in Bordeaux and Marseille this week tightened restrictions on public gatherings and retirement home visits after seeing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. 

READ ALSO: Why are Bordeaux and Marseille facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions but not Paris

 
 
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