French schools return to mask rules as Covid cases rise

Despite the scrapping of the national face mask rule for most indoor areas, some schools in France are again requesting that pupils and teachers wear masks in class as Covid cases rise.

Children wear facemasks during lessons in school
(Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP)

Just weeks after the government ended the national requirement for pupils and teachers to wear masks in schools, many establishments are reintroducing them, because cases of Covid-19 are rising in France once more.

The number of cases on Thursday, March 24th, 10 days after the mask mandate was lifted, reached 148,635, compared to 145,560 a day earlier,  and 101,747 seven days previously, according to Santé publique France.

On March 14th, France scrapped the face mask rule for most indoor public spaces, with the exception of public transport, hospitals and health centres.

However, it continues to be a Ministry of Health recommendation, in particular for those who have tested positive, contact cases, anyone at risk of developing the serious form of the illness, and health professionals.

Meanwhile, hygiene gestures remain in place as cases rise – probably due to the sub-variant BA.2 which has become the majority in France. 

The increase in cases has prompted some schools to demand that pupils and teachers wear masks. In many instances the instruction is limited to specific classes where a pupil or teacher has tested positive. 

School principals in Paris have sent emails to parents, recommending that masks are reintroduced for children who are contact cases for seven days. “We will not police the return of students to class but are counting on your civic sense,” according to an email seen by Le Parisien.

The latest figures show 52,669 students were infected with Covid-19 as of March 18. 

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the newspaper that the imposition of mask rules could only be enforced by prefectoral decision in the event of a local cluster of cases – which means that schools are relying on the goodwill of parents, staff and students.

But some schools have nevertheless decided to reinstate the measure across the board. According to Le Télégramme, the students of three colleges and high schools in Brest have since March 17th, been obliged to wear their masks in classes and in the yard.

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Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.