Coronavirus: France to step up COVID testing in schools to try to stop the British variant

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Up to one million French children and teachers are to be tested for COVID-19 each month to curb the spread of the British variant, the country’s Minister of Health said on Thursday.
Children as young as six years old should be tested, said Olivier Véran.

“What we know so far is that the virus appears to be more contagious in children. This is what we see in England. Without having more serious cases, at least proportionately, ”he added.

The government is monitoring the variant “closely” – believed to be up to 70% more transmissible – and decides to close schools “if the situation changes and we have an increase in the share of the variant”, Véran continued.

The minister stressed that the French Pediatric Society calls, for the moment, that schools remain open. Last week, Prime Minister Jean Castex also declared that “the health situation should be very serious to close the schools” because the consequences are “absolutely dramatic”.

England is currently under a third national lockdown due to the emergence of the variant last month, which has led to a sharp rise in infections and deaths. The UK recorded its highest toll in a day since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday with more than 1,500 dead. Schools in regions where the epidemiological situation is particularly serious have been closed.

Véran made this announcement a few hours before holding a press conference with Castex, Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer and Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot.

They are expected to unveil new measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus, including a possible extension of the nighttime curfew nationwide.

Cultural venues will also seek out Bachelot to give them a glimpse of when they might be able to reopen or unveil new measures to support them.

Museums, cinemas and theaters have been closed since the country began its second nationwide lockdown on October 31 and have not been allowed to reopen as Christmas approaches, unlike other non-essential stores.

Bars and restaurants have also had to keep their doors closed and were told last week that they may only be able to accommodate customers from mid-February “at the earliest”.

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