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Criticism as France eases school Covid rules

The rules were reinforced at the beginning of February, but have been relaxed just a fortnight later, with thousands of children on holiday

The French government has eased health protocols in schools just a fortnight after it tightened them, prompting condemnation of an 'about-face' from parents and teachers amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19 variants.

As pupils in Zone C prepared to break up for their winter holidays, and those in Zone A finished the first week of their two-week break last Friday, some 1,599 classes and 103 schools were closed due to Covid-19, according to the Ministry of Education.

However, health protocols, which were reinforced on February 1 were relaxed on the same day, prompting the parents' group Ecole et familles oubliées (School and forgotten families) to issue a press release criticising the "secret publication" and rules "completely disconnected from the reality of health conditions in schools".

Here are the new rules:

Staff no longer considered an automatic at-risk contact

Previously school staff were considered to be an at-risk contact as soon as three pupils in their class "from different families" tested positive.

The rules now state that: "a thorough study of the contacts will determine whether classroom staff should also be considered as risk contacts, in accordance with the prescriptions of the health authorities".

This new rule is valid for classes from crèches to lycées.

No automatic shutdown in case of the so-called UK variant

"In case of identification of a variant in a member of staff or a student, the class concerned will be closed," the ministry said in early February - a measure which "is partly responsible for the increase in class closures," according to Le Monde.

As of Friday the instruction on the ministry website read: "The behavior to be taken around a confirmed case of the UK variant is the same as for a general case".

Class closures can "be considered" following "local analysis concerning the circulation of this variant on the territory", but it is no longer automatic.

Read more: Coronavirus - Daily updates on the situation in France

Different rules for other variants

Immediate closure rules remain in force when students are infected by variants initially observed in Brazil and South Africa.

"All students in the class will be treated as at-risk contacts," the ministry says. However, teachers and other staff members are not automatically considered at-risk contacts and "the appearance of one of these variants among a staff member does not automatically imply closing the class".

However, the ministry also says: "A class closure should be implemented as soon as a student is identified as an at-risk contact of a parent, a member of the family or any person living in the same unit who has been contaminated by a South African or Brazilian variant".

Read more: Covid France: ‘Next few weeks’ crucial for lockdown decision

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