France reimposes mask rules in 39 areas as Covid cases rise

Faced with a slow but steady rise in the number of Covid cases, France has reimposed rules on face masks for primary school pupils in 39 areas of the country.

Primary-age school children in a class wearing facemasks to protect against the spread of the Covid-19 virus
Photo: Pascal Guyot / AFP

The rule on wearing masks in the classroom had been listed in recent weeks in many areas that had low Covid rates, but now 39 départements will be added to the list of 22 départements already exceeding the alert threshold to trigger additional school health measures, taking the total to 61.

The rule will be imposed when schools return from the Toussaint holidays on Monday.

Cases have risen since October 10th, when just 17 départements were above the alert threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 people.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal, speaking after the weekly Council of Ministers meeting at the Elysée Palace, said that the stricter measures would be imposed in schools in certain départements where cases had risen above 50 per 100,000.

The affected parts of the country will be officially revealed when the latest figures are published on Thursday evening.

These two maps, from Covidtracker’s Guillaume Rozier, show where cases are above 50 per 100,000, and where levels may be a week from now.

“From next week …  in the départements where the incidence rate has unfortunately stabilised above 50 per 100,000 inhabitants (…) the mask will again be made compulsory for children of schools concerned,” Attal said in his weekly press briefing.

“As we can alleviate measures of constraint, we will do it,” he added. “Obviously this principle is valid in both directions and as soon as the situation deteriorates, unfortunately, we must reactivate a certain number of measures,” he specified.

In total, 79 of France’s 101 départments had lowered restrictions in primary schools before the holidays in line with an improving health situation. Pupils in collège and lycée carried on wearing masks in the classroom.

For adults, the mask rules remain the same – masks are compulsory on all public transport and in any indoor public space which is not a health pass venue – this affects primarily shops, but masks remain compulsory in many workplaces.

Local authorities can also impose additional mask rules, last week authorities in Loire-Atlantique reimposed rules on mask-wearing outdoors in 68 communes.

Failure to abide by mask rules can net you a €135 fine.

Meanwhile, the number of people being hospitalised with Covid-19 is heading up again, Attal confirmed, but he said that France is experiencing a ‘rise’ in cases rather than a ‘surge’.

And he urged those eligible for a third ‘booster’ dose of vaccine to book an appointment. “Each booster dose is an additional protection against [Covid cases rising in] winter,” he said.

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EXPLAINED: French summer holiday rules for school children

Summer holidays officially begin for school children across France on July 7th this year. Some parents may be considering taking their children out before this date but this can be risky.

EXPLAINED: French summer holiday rules for school children

The summer holidays are fast approaching – no doubt to the excitement of your children. 

Some families may consider taking their child out of school prior to the official start of the holidays, which this year is July 7th. But this is illegal in most circumstances and could land you a €135 fine. For repeated offences that compromise the education of your child, the maximum penalty is a 2-year prison sentence and a €30,000 fine. 

The law states: “When a child misses class, the people responsible for them must inform the director of the educational establishment straight away of the motives for this absence”. 

You can pull your child out of school early if you get your hands on an autorisation d’absence – an authorisation to be absent. 

The following reasons are legal routes you could use to receive an autorisation d’absence from the school.

  • Illness (either of the child or someone in the family who could be contagious) – if your child has an infectious disease, you will need to get a letter from a doctor to show to the school;
  • An important family event (a marriage or a funeral for example);
  • Difficulty getting to school because of an accident that happened during the journey there;
  • The child has to follow their legal representatives. 

This last point is vague enough that some parenting forums online suggest it can be used to justify pulling your child out of school early to go on holiday. In any case – any “motive” you give will have to be approved by the school. 

If you want to use some other reason to pull your child out of school early, you will need to explain this to the school director who will then treat your request on a case by case basis. 

These rules apply to any child registered in a primary school, middle school or high school in France.