Millions of French children return to school after rescheduled Easter break

Millions of French children returned to the classroom on Monday as primary schools reopened after a three-week shutdown ordered to combat a severe third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Millions of French children return to school after rescheduled Easter break
French president Emmanuel Macron visits a school in Melun as classes restart. Photo: Thibault Camus/AFP

Primary schools and crèches reopened as President Emmanuel Macron’s government began easing restrictions imposed when France entered its third nationwide lockdown on April 3rd.

Secondary schools and high schools (collèges and lycées) have another week of distance learning before reopening to in-person teaching in a week’s time.

Restrictions on people travelling beyond a 10-kilometre radius of their homes will also be dropped on May 3rd as the number of Covid patients in intensive care falls.

Non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting venues are expected to be allowed to reopen from mid-May, depending on the health crisis.

On a visit to a primary school in Melun, about 50 kilometres southeast of Paris, Macron on Monday said that an unpopular nighttime curfew starting at 7pm would also soon be “pushed back a bit”.

A more detailed announcement is expected later this week.

On the agenda: What’s happening in France this week?

The French government made keeping schools open a priority throughout a second wave of infections in the winter, arguing that schools help combat social inequality.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, French schools were closed for only 10 weeks, compared with 28 weeks in Germany and 47 in the United States, UN figures show.

Macron, who is expected to seek re-election next year, drew fierce criticism however for rejecting calls by medical experts to order a third national lockdown in late January.

Two months later, with hospitals under severe pressure, he imposed a ‘partial lockdown’, but the latest confinement period has been more relaxed than others, with people encouraged to spend time outdoors.

Figures show the situation starting to stabilise, with the number of patients in intensive care flattening out below 6,000 in recent days.

The peak of the third wave “appears to be behind us”, Prime Minister Jean Castex declared last week.

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Macron calls for stricter Twitter controls on Covid disinformation

French President Emmanuel Macron criticised Twitter's new boss Elon Musk on Thursday, saying the entrepreneur was wrong to drop the fight against Covid disinformation as he slashes back content moderation on the platform.

Macron calls for stricter Twitter controls on Covid disinformation

With his country facing a fresh surge in coronavirus infections, Macron said the subject of misleading Covid information should be addressed head on, not swept under the rug.

“I think this is a big issue,” Macron, on a state visit to the United States, told broadcaster ABC. “What I push very much, for one, is exactly the opposite: more regulation.”

He said such protections have been implemented and enforced in France and “at the European level.”

Freedom of expression remains paramount, Macron insisted, “but there is responsibilities and limits” to what can be written and disseminated.

“You cannot go into the streets and have a racist speech or anti-Semitic speech,” the French leader said. “You cannot put at risk the life of somebody else. Violence is never legitimate in democracy.”

Macron’s concept of freedom of expression within acceptable limits is far from the libertarian approach of Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist” who has sacked many of the Twitter employees tasked with content moderation.

Musk has begun to allow Twitter users banned from the platform for posting disinformation, such as former US president Donald Trump, to return.

And it emerged this week that Twitter has stopped enforcing a rule preventing users from sharing misleading information about Covid-19 and vaccine effectiveness.

The billionaire Musk has made no secret of his fierce opposition to health restrictions put in place to fight the pandemic, especially when they meant the temporary shuttering of his Tesla electric vehicle factory in California.

“To say that they can not leave their house and they will be arrested if they do… this is fascist. This is not democratic, this is not freedom,” Musk raged in April 2020 on a conference call with analysts.

On Wednesday the European Union issued a sharp warning to Musk, saying he must do “significantly” more to fight disinformation, such as reinforcement of content moderation, in order to comply with EU law.

“There is still huge work ahead” for Twitter, said Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for the internal market.