Masks, tests and sports: France to relax Covid protocol in schools

The French Education Minister has updated Covid rules, with the most significant changes affecting primary school pupils, teachers and parents.

Masks, tests and sports: France to relax Covid protocol in schools
Covid protocoles in French schools are being relaxed. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

The French Education Minister, Jean Michel Blanquer, has announced a relaxation of Covid protocol in primary schools, which will come into effect when pupils return to class after the February holidays.

“We are in a situation to be able to proceed with easing,” he said. 

Primary schools will move from a level 3 covid protocol to level 2. This means:

  • Children will be allowed to mix with others of their own age group – rather than being confined to mixing with their own class;
  • Children will not have to wear masks while outside;
  • Inside sports are allowed once again (except for contact sports), even without a mask.

Middle schools and high schools are already on a Level 2 Covid protocol. 

Classes restart on February 21st for children in Zone B, on February 28th for children in Zone A and on March 7th for those in Zone C.  

A map shows France's different schooling zones.

A map shows France’s different schooling zones. Source:

From February 28th, pupils in all schools who are a contact cases will only need to take two Covid tests – one (PCR or antigen) on the day of infection alert and another (self-test, PCR or antigen) two days later. Previously, a third test had to be taken on Day 4.

Pupils under the age of 12 who test negative on the day of their contact are allowed to return to school on the condition that they take a Day 2 test. Those who don’t take tests are required follow distance learning for seven days. 

The rule is a little different for contact case children over the age of 12. If unvaccinated, they must self isolate and take a  test on Day 7 before returning to class. 

From February 21st, parents of children under the age of 12 will no longer need to sign an attestation sur l’honneur declaring that these tests have been taken. 

“This system will make the life of parents and teachers easier,” said Blanquer. 

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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.