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HEALTH

Sharp rise in class closures across France as Covid cases rise

The number of school classes in France closed because of Covid cases is the highest since the start of the new school year in September, Ministry of Education figures show.

An empty school classroom, with chairs stacked on desks and overhead electric lights switched on
Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP

A total of 4,048 classes are closed across the country, figures released on November 19th reveal, a sharp rise from the 1,246 closures recorded when the official number of class closures was last published on October 22nd, before the Toussaint school holidays.

The previous record high for the current school year showed 3,299 classes were closed on September 16th, a fortnight after pupils returned after the summer holidays. The number of closures then fell steadily to a low of 1,180 on October 14th, before starting to rise again.

The number of confirmed cases among students has also exploded, with 10,962 positive cases registered this week compared to 3,620 in the seven days to October 21st.

Over the whole country, Covid cases are running at around 10,000 per day, meaning that roughly one in seven of all cases are among school-age children.

Covid rates among school staff are also rising, with 776 confirmed cases on November 18th, compared to 257 on October 21st.

Facemasks have been compulsory for children in all primary schools across France since November 15th, when the Ministry of Education raised health protocols to level two across the whole of the country. They had previously been reintroduced in 40 départements after the Toussaint holidays.

On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron said France would not impose a lockdown on the unvaccinated like the one seen in Austria, but he did not rule out expanding the booster dose programme to more of the general population.

A day previously, government spokesman Gabriel Attal had said that France ‘can manage fifth Covid wave without extra restrictions’.

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HEALTH

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

France reported its first suspected case of monkeypox on Thursday, after cases of the virus were reported in several neighbouring countries.

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

A first suspected case of monkeypox in France was reported in the Paris area on Thursday, the country’s direction générale de la santé has said, two weeks after a first case of the virus in Europe was discovered in the UK.

Since that first case was reported on May 6th, more than 30 other cases have been confirmed in Spain, Portugal, the UK, Sweden, Canada and the USA.

Here we explain what is known about the viral disease.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The virus was first identified in 1958 in laboratory monkeys – which is where the name comes from – but rodents are now considered the probable main animal host.

It is mainly observed in isolated areas of central and western Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, with the first case in humans reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why is it in the news?

Monkeypox does not usually spread beyond Western and Central Africa. It is the first time, for example, it has been identified in Spain or Portugal.

It is believed the relaxing of Covid-19 travel rules have allowed the virus to spread further than usual.

The first case in the UK was reported on May 6th, in a patient who had recently travelled to Nigeria. But in the eight cases reported since, several had no connection to each other, and none had recently travelled, prompting experts to believe a number of cases have gone unreported.

Scientists are now working to find out if those cases are linked. 

What are the symptoms?

Initially, the infected patient experiences fever, headache, muscle pain, inflammation of the lymph node, backache and severe fatigue. Then pimples appear, first on the face, then in the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. The mucous membranes of the mouth, genitals and cornea may also be affected. 

It has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as similar but less serious than smallpox. In most cases, symptoms disappear in two to three weeks and the patient makes a full recovery.

There are two known strains of the virus: the more severe Congo strain and the West African strain. UK cases reported to date have been the West African strain.

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is most often transmitted to humans by infected rodents or primates through direct contact with blood, body fluids, or skin or mucous membrane lesions of these animals. 

Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through respiratory droplet particles during prolonged contact. But contamination can come from close contact with skin lesions of an infected individual or from objects, such as bedding, recently contaminated with biological fluids or materials from a patient’s lesions.

More severe cases are related to the length of time patients are exposed to the virus, their state of health, and whether the virus leads to other health complications. 

Young children are more sensitive to this virus.

Can it be treated?

There is no specific treatment or preventive vaccine against monkeypox – and the huge majority of patients recover fully with appropriate care.

Smallpox vaccination was effective in the past at also providing protection from monkeypox, but with that disease considered eradicated, people are no longer vaccinated against it, which has allowed monkeypox to spread once again. 

Should we be worried?

Experts have said that we’re not going to see the virus reach epidemic levels.

“There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission alone can maintain monkeypox in the human population,” the WHO has said.

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