As schools reopened from the two-week Toussaint holiday, primary schools in 40 of France’s 101 départements – which had been mask-free for weeks – saw the reintroduction of mask rules in class.
Under the government’s Covid protocol, primary school pupils have to wear masks when the incidence rate rises above 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over five consecutive days.
With a further 22 départements in which the rule had never been lifted, primary age pupils in 61 départements, plus the overseas territory of La Réunion, are now wearing masks in class. Pupils in collège and lycée have been wearing masks throughout.
With nearly 75 percent of the total population (and nearly 90 percent of the eligible population of over 12s) inoculated against the Covid, France is one of Europe’s vaccine leaders.
But the pace of new vaccinations has slowed since the summer, when millions rushed to get shots after the introduction of a Covid pass to enter bars, restaurants, gyms and other entertainment and sporting venues.
On Tuesday evening, Macron will address the nation about the health crisis for the first time since July 12th.
The World Health Organization has expressed “grave concern” over soaring Covid cases in Europe, warning that the continent could see another half a million deaths by early next year.
Germany last week set a new record for daily cases within the EU, with nearly 34,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours.
France has so far been spared a steep rise in infections, with an average daily rate of 6,600 new cases per day, but the increase in cases has been picking up the pace in recent days.
In the absence of a fourth wave of infections, many parents and teachers have expressed dismay over the reimposed restrictions on younger children.
The secretary general of France’s biggest primary teachers union, the SNUIPP-FSU, warned that the “yo-yo effect” would have a detrimental effect on students.
“This to-ing and fro-ing risks creating a sense of instability in schools,” Guislaine David said.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told France Info radio that while the new mask mandate was “unpleasant” it was “necessary”.