With Covid-19 cases skyrocketing among children in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex took to the airwaves Monday night to relax the school protocol, once again. Teachers across the country were already livid over the government’s pandemic response and have planned a massive strike for Thursday. The new instructions – the third set since children returned to school January 3 after the holidays – have not calmed the teachers’ ire. Au contraire.
<p>Inundated by the Omicron wave even as Delta hangs on, France's pandemic arithmetic is astounding. Nationwide, all ages combined, the country is averaging more than 280,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases daily, with more than 2.5 percent of the country testing positive last week alone.
In schools, infection rates are often worse. In the greater Paris area, where Omicron hit first and fastest, some 5 percent of primary- and middle-school children were confirmed to be infected last week; among 15- to 17-year-olds, the figure was over 6 percent. Meanwhile, millions of primary school pupils remain unvaccinated amid a ploddingly slow start to the campaign for 5- to 11-year-olds.
Healthcare and education personnel have clamoured for better protection against Covid-19 in schools, demanding high-quality face masks and carbon-dioxide detectors in every school to aid ventilation against a predominantly airborne virus. They’ve also asked to return to the protocol in place in the autumn, which set off circuit-breaking class closures from the first confirmed case.
But their demands have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Since cases began rapidly rising in December, the French government has baffled experts by relaxing the Covid-19 school protocol again and again.