Medical staff in France have said that all schools should close for the next four weeks in order to halt the spread of the Covid-19 virus among students, staff, and their families.
The suggested four-week period should have begun this week (starting Monday, February 8) and lasted until March 8, covering the entire February holiday season - which is usually divided into two-week blocks with staggered start dates for different geographical regions.
In a statement, school and university medical staff union SNMSU-UNSA Éducation, said that extended closures were necessary as "two weeks of school holidays is not enough to diminish the negative impact of the pandemic in schools”.
Claudine Némausat, secretary general of the union, said it was “indispensable” to close schools “to break the chains of [Covid] infections”.
“If we don't close today, we risk closing later and longer. This is our fear,” she said in an interview with Franceinfo.
Schools ‘exhausted’ as positive cases rise
The union said the circulation of the virus is growing “stronger and stronger” in schools and staff are becoming increasingly “exhausted” by trying to manage the health crisis.
School medical staff, already “overloaded with work” are being delegated additional tasks that would traditionally be carried out by medical organisations such as ARS and Cpam, the union said.
And, as increasing numbers of classes and schools close due to positive cases of the variants being detected, the union issued a reminder that students “are active links in transmission chains, especially since new variants have appeared”.
The most recent data from the education ministry, from February 5, shows that 934 classes and 105 schools in France are currently closed due to the health pandemic. There were 12,520 confirmed cases of Covid among students, and 1,808 among school staff, recorded in the seven days prior to the results being published.
Union questions holiday travel rules
As President Emmanuel Macron has called for collective “responsibility” over the holiday period, the union fears that a lack of travel restrictions will make matters worse.
It said that a regular two-week break would be insufficient, when “the government has allowed travel within France, and therefore the mingling of communities” during the winter holiday period.
UNESCO data shows a mixed approach to school closures throughout Europe.
While France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria are currently keeping schools fully open, all regular schools are completely closed in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, and only partially open in Italy.