French schools “overwhelmed” by COVID-19 and contact tracing

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Boulogne-Billancourt, FRANCE, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Less than a week has passed since French schools reopened after Christmas, but at Lycée Jean Renoir in Boulogne-Billancourt, just outside Paris, one in four teachers and nearly 50 students are already sick with COVID-19.

With new testing and contact tracing rules introduced at the start of this term, director Aristide Adeilkalam now faces a huge challenge.

“It’s very, very, very complicated,” Aidelkalam said, his glasses fogging up from his face mask.

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“Forty-seven students have COVID. I have to identify contacts for each one. Until now, we could deal with cases one by one as they came in. Now we are overwhelmed.”

The school has 620 students and 40 teachers.

France has emphasized keeping schools open in recent months, no longer rushing to close classes with positive coronavirus cases, and it has not extended vacations to let the Omicron and Delta waves pass. unlike some of its EU neighbours.

However, schools say it has become very difficult to cope with the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and new testing rules.

When a schoolboy tests positive for COVID-19, the rest of his class must each take three tests over five days – the first test a PCR or antigen test at a test centre, the other two a self-administered test.

This exacerbated already long queues to get tested at pharmacies and labs as the number of cases hit record highs.

In the week to January 2, a record 8.3 million coronavirus tests were carried out, and that was before the end of the holiday period.

ON THE EDGE

Teachers’ unions are angry, and one of them, the SNUipp-FSU, has called a strike for next Thursday, saying “schools are about to explode”.

Accusing the government of taking “a risky gamble” with the health of teachers and students, the union wants a return to closing every classroom where there are cases of COVID-19.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer dismissed the criticism on Friday.

“Of course it’s hard, of course it’s complicated,” he said of the new testing protocol, in an interview with CNews TV. But that was the price to pay for keeping schools open, he said.

“It would be easy to say: the children are no longer going to school… that’s not what I want,” Blanquer said.

Despite a slow start due to vaccine hesitancy, 90% of people aged 12 and over in France have received at least two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Vaccination of children from the age of five began at the end of December.

France reported 261,481 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, lower than the record of more than 332,000 set on Wednesday, but the seven-day rolling average of new cases exceeded 200,000 for the first time since.

And it’s not just the teachers who are fed up. At the Jean Renoir school, Drissa Keita Cissé, 11, also feels pandemic fatigue.

“COVID just doesn’t let go,” he said with a sigh.

(This story has been reclassified to correct the student’s first name in the penultimate paragraph)

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Reporting by Yiming Woo; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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