Covid-19: What you need to know about France’s new health rules in schools

Despite spiralling Covid-19 rates and cities toughening rules to slow down the spread, the French government has decided to relax health rules in schools. The changes entered into effect today.

Covid-19: What you need to know about France's new health rules in schools
Children aged over 11 must wear masks in French schools. Photo: AFP

After consulting with the Scientific Council set up to advise the government on its Covid-19 strategy, the French government last week decided to raise the bar for closing schools after detecting Covid-19 on the premises.

“If only one child tests positive, the rest of children will still be able to go to school,” French Health Minister Olivier Véran said last week during a live televised speech to the nation where he also warned about spiralling Covid-19 rates across the country.
Véran said the risk of children infecting each other or their parents was so low that shutting down schools after detecting one case of the virus did not make sense.
“It is out of the question that we send all children home, or even close entire schools at the first alarm,” he said.


What will change?

The new health protocol, available on the education ministry's website (link here), outlines the procedure that is to be set in motion if a pupil is identified as a Covid-19 case;

  • The pupil in question is to stay home from school for at least seven days after receiving their test results. The exact number of days is to be decided by a doctor
  • The school director must inform the regional health agency straight after a case is confirmed at the school
  • The school must make a list of pupils and school personnel that could be at risk of being a contact case of the sick pupil. This list must be validated by the regional health agency
  • Instead of closing down the entire class or the whole school, only the people featuring on the list must self-isolate for seven days, while the rest of the school can continue as normal
  • Teachers on the list must test negative for Covid-19 seven days after their last contact with the sick pupil before returning to the school
  • Children on the list are not required to take a Covid-19 test, but they need to self-isolate for seven days before going back to class

READ MORE: These are the Covid-19 health rules in place in French schools

Why are they doing this?

Only two weeks into the new semester, 81 schools and 2,100 individual classes had closed down.

The education minister has repeated several times that the government's goal is to ensure the school year becomes “as normal as possible,” after French children spent months away from the classroom.

Even with the virus spreading at an accelerated pace across the entire French territory, the government has decided that the price of closing down schools and keeping children at home is bigger than keeping schools open.

“We must not exaggerate the risk that children face. It’s essential that they continue to go to school, that is more important,” Professor Jean-Daniel Lelièvre, head of epidemiology at the Henri Mondor Hospital, told Le Parisien.

Read more about the health rules in place in French schools here.

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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.