On Monday, France began a gradual deconfinement that plans to lift almost all restrictions by the end of June and that has as its first stage the return to classroom attendance of secondary and high school students and the end of restrictions on domestic travel.
After two weeks of vacation and two weeks of distance learning, some 5.6 million students returned to school with a reinforced health protocol which, between this month and June, plans to distribute 64 million self-tests in high schools and secondary schools, with the objective of doing one per person per week.
However, high schools will alternate face-to-face and distance courses to reduce by half the physical capacity of classes, and in the 15 French departments with the highest circulation of the virus, including the Paris region, this mixed model will also be implemented in the third and fourth years of secondary school.
“France can be proud to be one of the countries in the world where schools have been open the most and we want to continue this way,” said the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, at the inauguration of this new stage from a high school in Laxou, in the northeast of the country.
According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), from March 2020 to last March, classes were closed in France for 10 weeks in total, compared to 35 in Italy, 28 in Germany or 15 in Spain.
The self-tests are, according to Castex, “a new weapon” that adds to the country’s fight against the pandemic, as well as to the acceleration of the vaccination campaign, which until now was only open to teachers from the age of 55.
From this week onwards, those over 50 with disabled students and the staff accompanying these students will be able to do so, and then it will be the turn of nursery education staff also over 50, with the aim that by the summer vacations all workers in the sector will have received at least one dose.
Regional travel authorized in France
In addition to this gradual return to normality in the high schools, which could be felt in the joy with which the students met again at their entrance, the ban on moving beyond a radius of 10 kilometers from home without a compelling reason was lifted.
Train stations such as Paris’s Montparnasse were the scene of this relative freedom from the early hours.
“It gives a small sense of freedom, especially compared to last year,” added Gaude, a communications worker who set course for Toulouse, also in the south, and who said she was equally happy that her young children went back to school last week: “I didn’t know what to occupy their time anymore.”
The de-escalation schedule will continue on May 19 with the reopening of museums, cinemas and performance halls and the terraces of cafes and restaurants, or with a two-hour delay in the start of the curfew, currently in force from 7 p.m. (17.00 GMT).
“As long as the curfew remains, it’s the same: from home to work and from work to home,” explained Alexy, 34, who is looking forward to the lifting of this restriction introduced in October “so we can have some fun and see friends.”
On June 9, subject to the evolution of the health situation, cafés and restaurants will be able to welcome customers inside again, the curfew will start at nine o’clock and non-EU tourists will be allowed to enter with a health certificate proving that they are vaccinated or have a negative test.
At a time when an average of 24,500 cases are registered daily, and when the number of patients in the ICUs has dropped by 7% in one week, to 5,585, the “old normal” will arrive on June 30, when there will no longer be a curfew and only bars will remain closed in France.