PARIS — Just one week after a third of French schoolchildren went back to school in an easing of coronavirus lockdowns, a worrying flareup of about 70 COVID-19 cases has been linked to schools.
Some lower grades were opened last week, and 150,000 more junior high students went back to the classroom Monday as further restrictions were loosened by the government. The move initially spelled relief: the end of homeschooling for hundreds of thousands of exhausted French parents, many of whom were also working from home.
But Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer sounded the alarm Monday, telling French radio RTL that the return has put some children in new danger of contamination. He said the affected schools are being closed immediately. French media reported that seven schools in northern France were closed.
The situation highlights the precarious situation the government finds itself in as it seeks both to reassure the public that the country is moving forward past the coronavirus and to react prudently to safeguard public health.
Blanquer did not specify whether the 70 cases of COVID-19 were among students or teachers.
Given that the incubation period for the virus is several days, Blanquer said, people are “likely” to have been infected before about 40,000 preschools and primary schools reopened last week, with classes capped at 15 students.
About 30 percent of children went back to school, Blanquer said. The government has allowed parents to keep children at home.
This week, France is reopening junior high schools in “green” regions less affected by the virus, which do not include Paris.