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France to fully reopen schools after scrapping 4m sq distance rule

The reopen of France's schools has been accelerated on the back of continued positive news on coronavirus infection levels.

France to fully reopen schools after scrapping 4m sq distance rule
Photo: AFP

While most schools in France are now open, limits on class sizes mean that many pupils are only attending part time, while other parents have opted to keep their children at home.

However, this is set to change, after president Emmanuel Macron is his address to the nation on Sunday night declared: “As of Monday, in France and overseas French territories, nurseries, schools and secondary schools will prepare to welcome all students.”

“From June 22nd,” the president continued, “attendance will be compulsory.”

On Monday the education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer added that the rule requiring 4 m sq of space per pupils – which had dramatically limited class sizes – will be scrapped.

“The fundamental reduction is that of physical distance,” he told Europe 1. Instead of the 4m sq required until now around each child, the physical distance will be “one metre laterally between pupils”, he detailed.

“This allows us to accommodate all students.”

Schools in France closed on March 16th, the day before the nationwide lockdown began, although some local authorities in 'cluster' areas had closed their schools down earlier.

They began to reopen from May 11th, at first only primary schools.

The reopening was extended to all schools from June 2nd, but limits on class sizes – a maximum of 15 pupils in schools and 10 in nurseries – meant that many children were only attending for part of the week.

Data from June 4th showed that only around a quarter of pupils were back in school.

Since the reopening began, parents had been able to decide whether to send their children back or not, with many opting to continue home schooling.

However, from June 22nd, attendance will be compulsory again and any parents who wish to continue home schooling on a permanent basis will have to go through the process to be registered with their local authority.

The next week will be taken up with preparation time for schools as they prepare to welcome all pupils back from June 22nd.

Although it will be a brief return – schools in France break up for summer holidays on Friday, July 4th and the government has already ruled out extending the summer term or introducing extra classes.

The minister defended this decision, saying “Every day counts in the life of a student.

“The fundamental objective, and I've been saying this from the beginning, is that there should not be a break for students between March and September, which is the case in Italy. But we all know that this can create social and educational damage. Children need to go to school.”

The announcement did not concern lycée – high school – students, who are usually doing exams at this time of year – or universities, which are largely set to continue online teaching until September.

But centres de loisirs, which operate over the summer holidays proving activities and childcare, will go ahead this summer, it has been confirmed. 

 

 

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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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