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France eases Covid rules for schools as infections soar

No more PCR/antigen tests, emergency pick-ups from school and multiple attestations to fill out: here's how the Covid protocol is changing in French schools.

A school class in the French city of Lyon.
A school class in the French city of Lyon. The government has changed the Covid protocol is schools in response to soaring case numbers. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

France on Monday announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes and sparked concern among parents and teachers.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told France 2 television that more than 10,000 classes — two percent of the total — had to be cancelled because of coronavirus outbreaks, but that the government would not “shut down the schools or the country”.

France has suffered more than 125,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and on Monday recorded 93,896 new coronavirus cases as the highly contagious Omicron variant drives up daily infections to record highs.

Under the first change, from Tuesday, parents will no longer be obliged to pick up their child immediately for Covid testing if he or she is a contact case of a virus sufferer. Instead, they can wait until the end of the school day. 

Three self-tests, performed on the day of contact, plus days 2 and 4, will be deemed sufficient for contact cases rather than testing at an officially approved site, with the parents signing a single certificate to confirm all three results.

You can find a template for such an attestation here – but you should change the title to: Réalisation d’autotests and provide the dates for all the dates when your child took self-dates. 

Prior to the new rules, pupils first had to take a PCR or antigen test immediately after learning that they had come into contact with an infected classmate. They then had to take self-tests on days 2 and 4 following the initial test. Parents had to sign individual attestations declaring that the self-tests had been carried out. 

The test kits, available from pharmacies, will be free.

One teaching assistant checking test results outside a Paris junior school on Tuesday said: “We are totally confused between the rules of the last protocol and then new one just announced. For the children it is awful to have to do all these tests.”

France’s biggest primary teachers’ union the SNUipp-FSU, which denounced the “indescribable mess” in the school system and “a strong feeling of abandonment and anger among the staff”, has called for a national strike on Thursday.

Most of the country’s other teaching unions have signed up to the proposal.

SNUipp-FSU secretary-general Guislaine David was unimpressed by Castex’s announcement.

“It displays total contempt for the teachers who are on the ground. This will not at all reduce the number of contaminations at school,” she said.

“On the contrary, it will multiply them tenfold, because a certificate on the honour of the parents is now sufficient.”

More than 100,000 people across France protested Saturday over what they say are government plans to further restrict the rights of the unvaccinated.

Member comments

  1. Are schools now allowed to test children without permission of the parents? How high is the fine for parents who refuse to test their children? By the way how do people know they are positive? Are they really all having the app installed and allow notifications? Than run to get a test with the slightest discomfort? Are people really testing by an headache, throadache or when they feel well but are a contact case? Wow! I never tested ones and have no intention to do so, yes I got vaccinated, I am only anti-test LOL.

    1. That’s not how it works. Two of my children have been out since last Wednesday as ‘contact cases’ because there was at least 1 case of covid in each of their classes. No students in these classes were allowed to go back without an official test result from a pharmacy or testing center. But, once they had that result, they could go back, and then do autotests (home tests) 2 and 4 days after the contact case is reported. I chose not to test my children at all (they are only 3 and 7 years old) and instead keep them home for 7 days. This is an option, and not something that gets punished. Same with the new light protocol. You can’t force a 3 year old to take 3 home tests (it’s dangerous if they don’t stay perfectly still) so the option to simply isolate for 7 days is there. Most of the children in their classes did not go back because no appointments were available. Some parents drove over an hour to get their kids tested, and others waited for up to 2 hours in the pharmacy. Poor kids! In our village school, 4 out of the 6 classes currently have covid cases, meaning most of the school population just isn’t present now. And of course, Thursday nearly all the teachers are striking anyway.

    2. I just dropped off my son at his centre de loisir, where an alarmed parent just dropped of their cas contact kid without proof of a negative test, after arguing with the young animators for 20 mins. Because there’s so much confusion and frustration, the protocol is really only half-hazardly being followed anyway.

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COVID-19 ALERT

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.

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