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Concerns raised in France over school reopening as infections surge

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 09:21, August 21, 2020

PARIS, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- Despite stricter anti-coronavirus measures in recent weeks, France is witnessing higher infections and faster virus transmission, fuelling fears of a second epidemic wave and raising concerns particularly over uncertain sanitary situation when millions of students will return to schools in less than two weeks.


As of Thursday, France recorded 4,771 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the biggest daily increase since early April.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, a total of 229,814 people have caught the respiratory illness, while the number of clusters being investigated had increased by 33 to 266 from Wednesday, the Health Ministry's data showed.

"In Metropolitan France, the situation is worrying: all indicators continue to progress and the transmission of the virus is increasing. It concerns all age groups and particularly young adults," the ministry's health agency said in its latest update.

It noted that a third of French departments have exceeded the vigilance threshold which indicates the number of infected people per 100,000 inhabitants. The figure reached 24.3 compared with 4.4 registered in early June, and above the limit of 10 patients.

Nationwide the "R" number indicating the viral transmission rate now stands at 1.33, up from 0.77 percent reported when France returned to normal life months ago. That means 10 infected people will spread to an additional 13 on average.


The surge in the number of patients with COVID-19 has led the government to impose face covering in outdoor public spaces where physical distance cannot be respected. It had already ordered face masks in public transport and enclosed places for all people older than 10 years.

On Friday, masks will be mandatory everywhere in Toulouse, southwestern France, from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next day, for all people aged 11 and above. People riding bikes and scooters will also be required to wear masks, a first for a large city in France.

"The extension of compulsory mask wearing outdoors is a necessary measure in the face of an increasingly worrying situation in Haute-Garonne and notably in Toulouse," Etienne Guyot, prefect of Haute-Garonne, said in a statement released on Thursday.

"The responsibility of everyone in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 is essential to stop the current epidemic's trend in order to avoid a new containment whose consequences would be very serious," he added.

As the virus spread shows no sign of abating, workers should also cover their faces starting from Sept.1, in all collective workplaces such as meeting rooms, open offices, canteens, while those at private offices could take the mask off.

In a further move to contain the rapid viral circulation, local authorities in Paris and Marseille, which are classified as red zones, are able to, following a government decree, place the city under lockdown by limiting travel, restricting transport traffic and closing non-essential businesses.

"We know perfectly well that the fight against the virus will only be won in one way: prevention, application of barrier gestures, mask-wearing, protection of the most vulnerable, and respect for isolation instructions," Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a recent speech.


Amid worsening sanitary indicators, there are rising concerns over how it would be possible to resume learning amid uncertain sanitary situation and relaxed health protocol when millions of students will return to schools on Sept. 1.

Under the government's updated sanitary plan, the one-metre rule has been scrapped both inside and outside the classroom.

Keeping a one-metre distance inside the school is recommended, but it is no longer compulsory when "it is not physically possible or if it means all pupils cannot be received," according to the plan.

Schools have to "organise activities to limit large groupings of people" by "limiting as much as possible" the flow of pupils and parents in the arrival and leaving rush, the plan states.

Only students above the age of 11 have to wear a face mask. Teachers and other school personnel must wear a mask when social distancing of one metre cannot be maintained, according to the government's health protocol.

"The protocol is now very relaxed in a way that it becomes obsolete. We know that the virus has resurged and will further increase when students return to schools," said Guislaine David, co-secretary general of SNUIPP-FSU, the country's main school teachers union.

"We are not ready to start the school year," she told BFMTV news television.

Sophie Venetitay, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Secondary Education, struck a similar tone, arguing that the Education Ministry's instructions no longer fit the epidemic situation.

"This protocol no longer corresponds to the current situation, with a virus circulating more actively. It should be greatly strengthened," she told Europe 1 local broadcaster.

Speaking to Paris Match Magazine on Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron regarded French people's concerns over the epidemic as "legitimate."

"We are living in real time a completely new epidemic phenomenon," he said. "We must (...) allow scientists to move forward, speed up vaccines, guarantee their access, test, trace, isolate, organize our emergencies, prevent, generalize the wearing of a mask when necessary."

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