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LIVING IN FRANCE

‘It’s too soon’ – Parents in France worry about sending children back to school in May

From May 11th, France will begin a progressive return to school as a first step to unwind the strict, nationwide coronavirus lockdown. But not all parents are thrilled about sending their children back to class.

'It's too soon' - Parents in France worry about sending children back to school in May
Only children of key workers have been allowed into school since the lockdown entered into effect in France. Photo: AFP

After three months of keeping their gates closed, French schools will begin to gradually reopen on May 11th, the date President Emmanuel Macron has outlined as the beginning of the end of the strict nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

EXPLAINED France's plan to reopen its schools after lockdown

When we asked our readers how they felt about sending their children back to school, many reacted by saying they were “worried.”

“It’s too soon,” Allison wrote.

“I don't think it's a good idea,” Sorana-Monica said.

“Just the thought of it makes me feel more anxious,” Karina said.

“Not sending mine back to the lycée, it's madness, it's like playing Russian roulette!” Karen wrote.

Several parents backed this, saying they would not send their children back even if their schools opened.

“I am waiting to find out how they are going to keep children a safe distance apart before I make my final decision,” one mother said.

“They are 9 and 13, they have years ahead of them to be educated, so quite happy for them to be homeschooled until the virus is controlled to some extent.”

 

'Gradual return'

On Tuesday, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer gave a general outline of how the government envisaged the reopening of the country's schools to happen.

“It won't be like going back to normal,” he said, stressing that the process would be “gradual,” spread over several weeks.

Final decisions would be firmly anchored in local conditions, Blanquer said, with regional and local authorities having a big say.

Regarding protective measures such as masks, the education minister said the government would issue a national decision.

Health issues

For some parents already suffering from pre-existing illnesses, the stakes were high.

That was the case from Barbara Diggs, a writer in her 50s suffering from chronic asthma.

Barbara, who lives in Paris, and said she worried about how her children would get to school. Both commuted by Metro – its usually crammed trains not ideal as a place to practice social distancing.

“I'm also worried about kids congregating once they're outside of school,” she wrote.

“They might be careful at first but it's hard to imagine them keeping a metre between them.”

Teachers are 'cannon fodder'

Both unions and parents have expressed worry that children, especially the youngest, will not know how to respect measures of social distancing even in very small groups.

“We know that schools are a place of contamination,” said Francette Popineau, Co-General Secretary and spokesperson of the largest teacher's union FSU. 
 
“When a child has wet his pants, a teacher must be there to help. When children play together, they touch each other,” she said, listing different scenarios where the so-called preventive gestures were not possible in schools.

“We need to be completely certain that this decision is safe and scientifically founded before we even think about reopen the school gates,” she said.

Nicola Cameron, a lawyer, teacher and parent, said it would be “an enormous responsibility” on teachers “to try to keep our pupils safe and to a greater or lesser degree ourselves.”

She said her 15-year-old daughter “feels extremely unsure” about returning to school, “despite being desperate to get back to some degree of normality.”

“It almost seems like teachers are the cannon fodder, to enable the economy to reopen and parents to perhaps “have a break,” she said.

Homeschooling has been the norm in France since mid March. Some parents are longing for their children to go back to class. Photo: AFP

'I can't go to work if the kids are home'

Blanquer said parents would have the option of continuing to homeschool their children after May 11th, but did not specify how schools would verify if such a homeschooling was taking place or not.

Since school closed in mid March, many parents have been struggling to juggle working from home and trying to keep their children on top of their school work. For single parents especially, the task had proved quite exhausting. 

By now, many parents were eager to get their children out of the house.

“CAN'T WAIT!” one Twitter user wrote to The Local.

 

Will France be able to keep its schools coronavirus free after May 11th? Photo: AFP

“I can't go to work if the kids are home,” said Nate Caucutt, a father in Lorient, east of France.

Both he and his wife had jobs that did not allow for home working.

“France doesn't have much remote work capability, so I'm sure many parents are in the same situation,” he wrote to The Local.

 

His wife had gone back to work while Nate tried to help his 9 and 12-year-olds to keep up to date with their school work.

“Only one teacher hosts Skype classes for one of our kids. The rest is all independent study or learning with parents,” he said.

Most teachers email homework that children in theory should be able to do independently, but many parents have seen a lot of the burden fell on their shoulders.

“I enjoy helping the kids with their schoolwork, but not everyone is as fortunate as we are,” Nate said.

“If France is going to wait until September or later to try to reopen schools then there needs to be more effort online classes.”

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this article. Even if your story was not included in this piece we really appreciated reading your contributions. 

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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