French kids skip school as PM urges self-isolation in countdown to Christmas

·3-min read

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has said school children are allowed to skip the last two days of term prior to end of year holidays, in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. It comes on the back of recommendations by France's Scientific Council for people to try and self-isolate in the week before Christmas.

Castex urged people to heed the advice to self-isolate ahead of Christmas celebrations, especially if likely to be in contact with elderly relatives.

He also gave the green light to families to allow their children to miss Thursday and Friday, the last two days of the school term.

"This is a very reasonable suggestion," Castex told Europe 1 radio. "Self-isolate eight days before Christmas, if you can.

"I realise this is not possible for everyone," he said, adding that skipping school was in no way an obligation.

The measure was met with criticism from some parents, teachers and unions who branded it a "half-baked measure" introduced too late for people to get organised, and that it sent mixed signals.

'Confusing advice'

"Since September, the government has told us children are not the ones transmitting the virus. Now they tell us that children are at risk of being contaminated," Guislaine David, secretary of a primary school union told AFP.

Florence Delannoy, a secretary for a high school teachers' union, said the measure is "ridiculous", and schools should either stay open, or stay closed.

When asked if the dates for the end of school holidays might be pushed back in January, as is the case in Germany, the Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said nothing was set in stone.

"My job is to make sure students can continue going to school in the best possible conditions. We will only resort to shutting schools in extreme cases, and it would be the last place in society to be locked down," he told BFMTV earlier this week.

The government has expressed concern of a third resurgence of Covid-19 during end of year festivities, which bring together people from different regions and different age groups.

The national health authority, DGS, said the trend was seen over the summer when, after the first lockdown, family get-togethers were a source of renewed contamination.

Castex has said on a number of occasions during his weekly announcements that the idea is for French people to enjoy Christmas – but to act responsibly.

Part of the recommendation includes limiting the number of people around the table for dinner to six adults, to maintain social distancing and mask-wearing when not eating and airing out the room as often as possible.

Pre-party testing

The Scientific Council has also recommended people to get tested before end of year celebrations.

"This is a useful gesture for people who test positive but are asymptomatic," epidemiologist Antoine Flahault told AFP. "However, it would be dangerous to consider this a certificate of 'non-contagion'. We can test negative to the virus and still transmit it.

"That's why social distancing remains necessary, even after a negative test."

There is also concern that labs and doctors' clinics could be swamped with the number of people wanting tests at the same time of year.

France is currently reporting an average of around 12,000 daily cases, far from the 5,000 cases per day hoped for by the authorities.