As French schools reopen, minister scolds Covid-19 ‘obsessed’ critics, but teachers wary

France’s secondary schools reopened on Monday after a four-week break to stem the tide of Covid-19 infections. Some new preventative efforts have been deployed for the restart of classes, but critics say more must be done to secure schools lest the reopenings send cases, which remain high in France, climbing sharply again. The country's education minister, for his part, says people should stop “obsessing" over the risks of contagion at school.

Speaking at a high school in a small town outside Nancy in northeastern France as it reopened on Monday morning, Prime Minister Jean Castex assured those assembled that "the virus is circulating very little" in schools. "Between the risks, including the possible health hazards, of keeping schools closed and the risks of reopening them, the balance tipped very largely in favour of opening schools," Castex explained.

After priding himself on keeping France's schools open in February despite the repeated warnings of healthcare professionals, President Emmanuel Macron finally shut them down on April 6 as a third wave, largely fuelled by the British variant, forced his hand. The school closure was the signature measure of France's third nationwide lockdown – along with a post-Easter ban on travelling between regions and the closure of many non-essential shops.

Ultimately, for high schools and middle schools (collèges in French), much of the shutdown fell during the two-week Easter break, bookended by two weeks of distance learning.

France eases lockdown as bars, restaurants, museums and cinemas to reopen May 19