Coronavirus: ‘Closing French schools was right move, but parents are not ready’

The leading teaching union in France has backed the government's decision to close all schools to stem the spread of the coronavirus and had some advice for parents.

Coronavirus: 'Closing French schools was right move, but parents are not ready'
Schools close in France as of Monday, as part of a government effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the country. AFP

Francette Popineau, spokesperson of the country’s largest teacher’s union, FSU-Snuipp told The Local on Friday that she welcomed President's Emmanuel Macron's announcement that all schools would close “until further notice” on Monday March 16th.

“This is the right response,” she said. “We know that other countries that have closed their schools have managed to stem the spread of the epidemic, so we support this decision.”

It remains unclear how long schools in France will stay closed for with minister suggesting “at least two weeks” or until the spring holidays that begin in stages in early April. 

Because France's spring holidays have different timings for different parts of the country that could mean schools in some areas of the country remain closed until April 18th.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Friday that he expects exams to go ahead in the summer.

Working parents, who will now have to look after their children at home, remain confused about their rights.

But France's Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said all parents  with children under 16-years-old in nurseries or schools who cannot work from will have the right to sick pay.

She reminded parents there was no need to go to the doctor for a sign sick note (arrêt maladie) but that it would be declared by the employer.

She also said the sick pay would begin immediately, rather than after three days which is the norm for private sector workers.

However parents in France now face the question of what to with their children over the coming weeks, especially those who will have to continue working from home at the same time.

READ ALSO: 'The last day when everything will be normal' – parents in France braced for school closures

'This won't be a break'

Union leader Popineau said France was not ready to have virtual online classrooms.

“Organising virtual classrooms would require all parents having access to a computer and a webcam. It's a very complicated process. We don’t have the tools necessary, and teachers haven’t been trained to do it,” she said.

“But this will not be a break. Teachers will send over tasks for the children to do at home to keep them busy. It’s important that these tasks are tailored so that the children are able to do them autonomously, without depending on their parents.”

“Parents they have a responsibility to make sure that the children complete the tasks that their teachers have sent over, but we don't expect to transform into teachers. We don't want them to either, as they don't have the capacity or the pedagogical means necessary.”

And her advice for parents

“It's important that parents use this occasion to learn together with their children at home,” she said.

“There are many things parents can do with their children, like playing board games to develop their children's strategic thinking and skills, using audio books or documentaries, or sing together.”

You can find the latest information on the coronavirus situation in France here.

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Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

As France launches its autumn vaccine campaign, almost half of those eligible for the second booster jab in France have already received it. This has left some wondering whether they could qualify for a third booster, using the new dual-strain vaccines.

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

Question: I’m in my 70s and I had my second booster back in the summer but now I see that the new dual-strain vaccines are available – should I be getting an extra booster with the new type of vaccine?

French health authorities launched the autumn booster campaign on October 3rd includes newly authorised dual-strain vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 – which are designed to combat the Omicron variant.

It will be followed by the seasonal flu vaccination campaign in mid October.

READ MORE: When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

In France, about 6.3 million people have received a second booster dose, “or 41 percent of the eligible population,” said the Directorate General of Health (DGS) to Ouest France.

Currently only those in high risk groups are eligible for a second booster shot, including pregnant women, the elderly those with medical conditions or carers – find the full list here.

As almost half of the eligible population have already received a fourth vaccine, many are wondering whether they will be eligible for a fifth (or third booster) in order to access the new dual-strain vaccine.  

According to Virginie, a representative from HAS – France’s health authority – the organisation “no longer thinks in terms of doses for high-risk people and immunocompromised patients.”

Specifically, the HAS recommends that a new injection be given – and if possible one of the dual-strain vaccines – “regardless of the number of injections received up to now”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

However, French health authorities specified that the additional booster should “respect the minimum recommended time between two doses.”

“This depends based on your profile – for people aged 80 and over, residents of nursing homes or long-term care units (USLD) and those who are immunocompromised, the wait-time is three months between jabs. For the others, the delay is set at six months.”

For those who have already been infected by Covid-19, the HAS recommends that if you are eligible for a second (or third booster) that the additional dose “is still recommended, with a minimum delay of three months after infection.”