France reimposes mask mandate on primary school nationwide as Covid-19 cases rise

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Face masks become mandatory again for French schoolchildren from Monday as new cases of Covid-19 have exceeded a daily average of 10,000.

When classes were released for the weekend, 61 administrative departments of France, less than two-thirds, were subject to face mask warrants for primary schoolchildren. From Monday, all departments move to compulsory level 2 of France’s Covid-19 school protocol mask, with the exception of French Guiana, the most affected, which borders Brazil and remains in the strictest category of the protocol, level 4.

The decision to apply the face mask mandate nationwide for the five years of French primary school marks a political setback for France. It was detailed by the Ministry of Education following President Emmanuel Macron’s televised address to the nation last week announcing new Covid-19 measures.

At the end of September, the government announced the end of face masks for children in elementary schools where Covid-19 incidence rates were lowest. At the beginning of October, 47 departments threw away the masks, others joined them the following week. By the time schools across the country adjourned for a two-week All Saints holiday on October 23, 79 departments had dropped the mask requirement.

But a significant increase in Covid-19 cases has spurred new precautions just as new infections detected in France have averaged over 10,000 per day.

Back from vacation last Monday, schoolchildren from dozens of departments who had removed the masks in October had to put them back on again. Children from a fraction of the departments, including Paris, have kept the mask since the start of the school year on September 2.

Faced with a new wave of pandemic, Macron urged the elderly to get vaccinated against Covid-19 during his televised address to the nation last Tuesday. He announced that those over 65 would lose access to the France health passport on December 15 without the refill dose.

“The fifth wave has started in Europe, UK, Germany, where more than 30,000 new cases are registered daily,” Macron said. While the president described the pandemic situation in France as “more favorable”, he noted a 40% increase in the incidence rate of Covid-19 compared to the previous week.

“Even though I know how difficult it is, the wearing of the mask will be maintained in schools for the moment,” Macron announced during the speech.

‘Exasperation’

On the ground, the return of face masks for schoolchildren across the country has met with a mixture of satisfaction and resignation.

“There has been a certain fatality among teachers, a sort of exhaustion and even exasperation at the way the government is sending its messages,” said Stéphane Crochet, general secretary of the teachers’ union SE-Unsa. “Tuesday, after Macron’s speech, nobody really understood that the masking had been restored everywhere,” he added.

For her part, Catherine Nave-Bekhti, general secretary of the Sgen-CFDT union of school personnel, considered that the new measure seemed above all “reasonable”. “This is satisfactory because it is a coherent precautionary measure against the dynamics of the epidemic,” she said. “The goal is always to close as few classes as possible and prevent the epidemic from spiraling out of control, at school and elsewhere.”

Guislaine David, general secretary of Snuipp-FSU, the main union for primary school staff, noted that moving all departments to protocol level 2 not only means a cautious return to masking, but also means that schools must again prevent school groups from mixing in school canteens and extracurricular activities.

“It’s a real headache in a lot of schools, especially organizing recess,” said Crochet.

David also raises another thorny issue: “The acceptance of masks by some families, which in some places is becoming more and more difficult,” she said. “As we go back and forth on the protocol, we come across some parents who are anti-mask.”

The new national mandate in France affects primary school children aged around 6 to 11, a segment of the French population that remains unvaccinated. The European Medicines Agency is currently evaluating data on Covid-19 vaccines for the age group with an expected decision on Pfizer’s version in December, after which the French health authority will provide its own assessment.

(AXADLETM with AFP)

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