France reopens schools as Covid ICU patient numbers peak

Government claims daily numbers of new infections have started to decrease

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) greets people after his visit of a school of Melun, south of Paris, on April 26, 2021. Nursery and primary schools reopened on April 26, 2021 across France after a three-week closure in the first step out of the country's partial lockdown. Meanwhile, high schools students are following online classes. / AFP / POOL / Thibault Camus

Nursery and primary schools reopened on Monday across France after a three-week closure, despite the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive-care units reaching its highest since last spring.

French authorities say daily numbers of new infections have started to decrease, providing encouraging signs about the effect of restrictions that were imposed at the start of the month.

Schools have been closed since April 5 as the government decided to bring forward the date of Easter holidays to try to slow the spread of the virus.

Starting from next week, the ban on domestic travel will be lifted.

The night-time curfew, now in place from 7pm to 6am, will be maintained.

“We’re going to gradually reopen,” President Emmanuel Macron said while visiting a primary school on Monday in Melun, south of Paris.

“We will do this very slowly to avoid [the virus] to start spreading again.”

Mr Macron said he anticipated a better situation next month when a greater proportion of the population would be vaccinated and with the expected decrease in numbers of daily infections from the partial lockdown.

Asked by a child about the curfew, he said: “We will try to delay it a little bit because 7pm is early.”

France intends to gradually reopen non-essential shops, some cultural venues and cafe and restaurant terraces from mid-May.

Authorities are reporting more than 30,000 confirmed virus infections a day, down from about 40,000 earlier this month.

But French hospitals are still close to being overwhelmed, with nearly 6,000 critically ill patients in French intensive-care units. And the country has reported more than 100,00 Covid-19 deaths.

More than 14 million people in France have received at least one dose of a vaccine, about 26 per cent of its adult population.

Dr Eric Caumes, head of the infections and tropical diseases department at the Pitie Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, thought it was “not very reasonable” to start reopening the country now.

“Figures are not very encouraging,” Dr Caumes told news broadcaster BFM.

“They have only started to decrease in certain places, so saying that we’re loosening precautions despite figures not being down yet, we obviously have concerns.”

As schools open again, all French teachers and school staff will be given two virus tests a week to carry out at home, the Education Ministry said.

High school pupils can be tested at school once a week, with more tests eventually for younger students.

Parents taking their children to a Paris school on Monday morning felt relieved and worried.

“To be honest, we are not worried so much about the younger ones in primary schools,” Parisian Jerome Keff said.

"We are more worried about the other kids who are in the secondary schools, where I think the situation can be more complicated."

Middle school and high school pupils are attending online classes this week. They will be back in schools on May 3.

France sent all 12 million of its schoolchildren back to class from September until April, so many schools have not developed remote learning tools.

National learning websites were saturated or hacked when they pupils resumed online classes this month.

Some slowdowns were also reported Monday and about 1,000 people using a centralised network asked to reset their passwords, the ministry said.

But by the afternoon, 1.3 million people had successfully logged on for online class.