What are the new testing and isolation rules for French schoolchildren?

France has introduced a new Covid protocol in its schools, which will see testing ramped up significantly. Here's what you need to know.

French primary school children will soon need to take multiple Covid tests if a classmate tests positive.
French primary school children will soon need to take multiple Covid tests if a classmate tests positive. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

12 million pupils return to school on Monday amidst soaring Covid cases across France. 

The government has introduced a new Covid protocol in its schools which will see a change to self-isolation and testing rules. 

The Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said that the aim was to “ensure the protection of pupils and staff.”

Here’s what you need to know: 

Pupils over 12-years old and staff

Staff and pupils over 12-years-old must follow different procedures according to vaccination status. 

If they test positive but are fully vaccinated, they must self isolate for seven days. This can be reduced to a five day quarantine should a negative PCR or antigen test be carried out on the 5th day and if the person has been asymptomatic for 48 hours. 

If they test positive but are not fully vaccinated, they must self isolate for ten days. This can be reduced to a seven day quarantine should a negative PCR or antigen test be carried out on the 7th day. 

If they are a contact case but fully vaccinated, there are no self-isolation requirements and they can continue going to school. They must however complete self-tests on Day 2 and Day 4 (following the moment they realised they came into contact with someone infected with Covid). 

If they are a contact case but not fully vaccinated, they must self-isolate for seven days and take a PCR or antigen test on the 7th day. 

Pupils under 12-years-old 

No matter their vaccinations status, children under 12 must isolate for at least seven days if they test positive. They can leave on day five if they test negative via a PCR or antigen test and have not had any symptoms of 48 hours. 

Children under 12 must take a PCR test or antigen test immediately after realising that they are a contact case. Providing they test negative, self-tests must then be completed on Day 2 and Day 4. 

For contact case children, parents must sign an attestation sur l’honneur, stating that they have had all the necessary tests before they can return to school. You can download a template form here

The incidence of Covid among 5-11 year olds has exploded by a factor of 12 over the course of a month. Dozens of children are currently in intensive care after falling ill with Covid, but compared to other illnesses like gastroenteritis and bronchitis, Covid has taken a relatively small toll on this age group. 

Other measures 

Last month, Blanquer said that the government had made €20 million available for schools to install CO2 captors in schools, which allow education authorities to judge whether there is a sufficient aeration in classrooms to prevent the spread of Covid. 

France’s Scientific Council is concerned that up to a third of teachers will be off from work by the end of January due to soaring Covid cases. Blanquer said that the government is trying to ensure that recently retired teachers can be called back into service to fill the gap. 

The minister insisted that school exams would go ahead as usual and that there would not be capacity limits in exam halls and amphitheatres. 

France made all 5-11 year olds eligible for vaccination last week. 

Schools will start the new term as planned on Monday, January 3rd.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.