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


Boulogne-Billancourt, FRANCE, January 7 (Reuters) – Less than a week has passed since French schools reopened after Christmas, but at Jean Renoir high school in Boulogne-Billancourt, on the outskirts of 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 misting up from his mask.

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

The school has 620 students and 40 teachers.

France has placed emphasis on keeping schools open in recent months, no longer rushing to close classes with positive cases of the coronavirus, and it has not extended the holidays to let the Omicron and Delta airwaves pass, unlike some of its EU neighbors.

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

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

This has exacerbated the already long queues to be tested in pharmacies and laboratories as the number of cases has reached record highs.

In the week leading up to January 2, a record 8.3 million coronavirus tests were performed, and that was before the vacation period ended.

ON THE EDGE

The 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 making “a risky bet” with the health of teachers and students, the union wants a return to the closure of every class where there are cases of COVID-19.

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

“Of course it’s difficult, 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 kids don’t go to school anymore … that’s not what I want,” Blanquer said.

Despite a slow start due to vaccine hesitation, 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 moving 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 won’t let go,” he said with a sigh.

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

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