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After COVID: Should schools change?

Back to school under close surveillance. This Monday, 12.5 million students return to school after two weeks of Christmas vacation. With them, a surprise guest: the Omicron variant and its very high contagiousness: from December 23 to 29, the incidence rate for 0-9 year olds reached 738 positive cases per 100,000 people, and 1,469 among 10-19 years. This is less than 20-29 year olds for example (2,663 per 100,000) but it is still rising very sharply.

In an exclusive interview, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Minister of National Education, reveals to us the contours of the protocol which will apply from this Monday, January 3 at school. Main decision: the multiplication of tests for students with contact cases rather than the systematic closing of classes, a strong incentive to vaccinate 5-11 year olds, and an appeal to mayors to take advantage of the state fund of 20 million euros to equip their schools with CO2 sensors.


Tests carried out several days apart should make it possible to ensure that a student who was negative on the first day did not become positive later. LP/Jean-Baptiste Quentin

What is changing in the health protocol at school for this start of the school year?

JEAN-MICHEL BLANQUER. The situation is special because we have a new highly contaminating variant. From this Monday, at primary school, we are strengthening our "contact-tracing" policy. It will go through the multiplication of tests and the participation of families in this system based on accountability.

What does it consist of?

We start from what is already done: as soon as a positive case appears in a class, all students must do an antigen or PCR test, before returning on presentation of a negative result. What is changing is that from now on, when the family takes the first test, they will receive two free self-tests at the pharmacy, so that the students can test themselves again at home on D + 2 and D + 4. Parents will have to certify in writing that the tests have been done and that they are negative.

These tests several days apart ensure that a student who was negative on the first day did not become positive later. The objective is to keep the school open in the most secure sanitary conditions, even though the last two weeks have been marked by a very strong acceleration in the circulation of Omicron.

But will pharmacies have enough stocks?

Yes. If there were tensions at the time of the holidays, massive orders were placed, in connection with the Ministry of Health.

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What about middle school and high school?

In secondary education, the strong point is the vaccination rate for pupils over the age of twelve, which has exceeded 80%.

How many students will test positive in January 2022?

It is very difficult to estimate such a figure in advance. We don't know what the magnitude and duration of the Omicron wave will be. What is clear is that this variant being much more contagious than the previous ones, it will circulate in all age groups. Every day, therefore, we will have several thousand pupils concerned. In a way, the more you test, the more you find, the more you protect.

Why not go back to a radical solution, one which provides that the class closes as soon as a positive case, as demanded by the unions?

We make the opposite choice: test more to avoid closing classes. It is a personalized policy so that each student who is found not to be infected can return to school.

Another proposal: Valérie Pécresse, LR presidential candidate, had asked for the postponement of this return for a week. Have you considered it?

We always look at all the hypotheses, but clearly we have ruled it out. I admit, moreover, that I was surprised to hear this proposal. Since the beginning of the crisis, France has chosen to preserve its schools. Closing them can only be a last resort, and certainly not the first option that we take out in first intention and for ease as soon as a wave arrives.