By Yiming Woo
PARIS (Reuters) - France sent primary and nursery pupils back to school on Monday, the first phase of reopening after a three-week COVID-19 lockdown, even as daily new infections remained stubbornly high.
President Emmanuel Macron said a return to school would help fight social inequality, allowing parents who struggle to pay for childcare to get back to work, but trade unions warned that new infections would lead to a "torrent" of classroom closures.
In the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, pupils wore face masks and rubbed disinfectant gel on their hands as they filed through the front door of the Achille Peretti primary school. A poster reminded the youngsters to stay a metre apart.
"They're young, they need an adult to help them, but most parents have a job and it's burdensome to ask them to do the school work," said teacher Elodie Passon.
Middle and high school pupils are due to return to the classroom next Monday, when the government will also lift domestic travel restrictions that have been in place nationwide since early April.
The open-air terraces of bars and restaurants, as well as some business and cultural venues, might be allowed to reopen from mid-May if the curbs have sufficiently slowed the spread of the coronavirus, the government has said.
Some doctors and public health experts have warned it may be too early to ease restrictions.
On Sunday, the seven-day average of new cases fell below 30,000 for the first time in over a month, from about 38,000 when the lockdown began, though the number of COVID-19 patients in critical care still hovered near a third-wave high of 5,984.
(Reporting by Yiming Woo, writing by Richard Lough, editing by Estelle Shirbon)