France virus outbreak threatens back-to-school plan

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PARIS – Not all French classrooms can reopen safely on Tuesday, the country’s education minister admitted on Sunday, as a persistent increase in coronavirus infections undermines the government’s efforts to bring down the 12.9 million French schoolchildren in class this week.Like many governments around the world, France and Britain want to reopen schools from Tuesday to narrow the learning gap between rich and poor students that have been made worse by the virus lockdown this spring, and to put parents back to work and revive a struggling economy.

With several thousand new infections now reported in France every day, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the Journal du Dimanche that some classes will remain closed when the national reopening begins on Tuesday, but “as little as possible”.

Less than 48 hours before the end of the first bells of French schools, he declared that the openings and closings “were decided by a daily analysis based on the health situation of each territory”.

French doctors on Saturday issued an appeal saying the government’s anti-virus measures for schools are not strict enough. They recommended masks for kids as young as six and a mix of online and in-person education.

Currently, French schools are expected to resume largely as usual, but with masks required all day for all ages 11 and over and restrictions on movement and gatherings. In contrast, other European countries like Denmark and many school districts in the United States are undergoing a complete overhaul of the school day that includes smaller classes, more teachers, greater separation between students and classes and a mix of classroom and online learning.

The teacher Cécile Cluchier is preparing to take up the challenges of her kindergarten in Antony in the Paris suburbs.

“Make no mistake,” she said. “We know that with 25 students, we won’t always be able to keep an eye on every one of them,” and ensure that every young child washes their hands constantly and keeps a good distance from others.

She also wonders how she will be able to teach early language skills and defuse tensions with her face hidden behind a mask.

“In preschool and in this underprivileged area, it is very important to welcome children properly,” she said. “But now they can’t see my smile. ”

France reported 5,453 new daily infections on Saturday, up from several hundred a day in May and June. The national health service says the growth in COVID-19 cases is now exponential and neighboring countries have imposed quarantines or testing requirements for people coming from France.

In Britain, officials sought Sunday to reassure parents that schools can safely reopen. In an open letter, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stressed the importance of getting all children back to classrooms for the new school year.

“If a child is not in school, he risks losing much more than a few months of learning. It may well seriously harm their future chances in life, ”he said.

Meanwhile, the University and College Union, which represents academic staff in Britain, warned on Sunday that the movement of one million students expected if they return to universities in the coming weeks could trigger ” a public health crisis ”.

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A persistent increase in viral infections is jeopardizing the government’s efforts to reintegrate the 12.9 million French schoolchildren into the classroom. Jean-François Badias / Associated Press dossier

Union Secretary-General Jo Grady told the BBC tens of thousands of students will arrive in cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester – cities that have recently seen increased restrictions due to a peak of coronavirus cases.

“People who are increasingly infected with this virus are being encouraged en masse to move across the country, to come together and live together,” she said.

The union wants students to avoid campuses and face-to-face teaching until at least Christmas, unless a solid testing plan is in place.

Britain’s Conservative government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the virus, which has left the country with the highest number of confirmed viruses in Europe with nearly 41,600 dead. France has the third highest death toll on the continent with more than 30,600 people. Experts say all confirmed figures underestimate the true toll of the pandemic due to the limited number of tests and other factors.

In Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, the only state to have forced high school students to wear masks during lessons, ends the practice on Tuesday. Students should always wear masks at school outside of class.

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