Should France, like other European countries, have postponed the start of the school year to deal with the Covid epidemic? While several health specialists express themselves in this direction, it is not the government’s choice.
This Monday, January 4, all kindergarten, primary and middle school students will normally go back to class. “As for high schools, the start of the school year is as planned with the possibility of having half of students face-to-face and the other in distance”, indicates Gabriel Attal to the daily Le Parisien on January 3. “We obviously remain very vigilant, especially after the information relayed by British scientists on a greater contagiousness of the English variant in young people”, specifies the government spokesperson.
“Let’s not make the same mistake as when the 1re wave in Italy ”
Due to the proliferation of this new variant, the British authorities have just postponed the return to school for 15 days, particularly in London and in the south-east of England. In Ireland, the holidays have been extended by five days. In Germany, lessons will not resume until January 10 and in the Netherlands and Austria schools will remain closed until January 18.
→ ANALYSIS. Covid-19: change of strategy for vaccination
For Professor Antoine Flahault, it would have been wise for it to be the same in France. “With the worsening of the situation in the United Kingdom and Ireland, let’s not make the same mistake as when the 1re vague in Italy, no procrastination in Europe: let’s not reopen schools at the beginning of January. But let’s vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate first », Tweeted this epidemiologist, who heads the Institute of Global Health at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva.
The situation in England draws attention. An interview, broadcast on January 1 on the BBC, in particular marked the spirits. ” This virus affected children very little during the first wave. But today we have a whole room full of kids here “Said Laura Duffel, nurse at King’s College Hospital in London. In the aftermath, however, many pediatricians have strongly denied the increase in the number of hospitalizations of children in the country.
” Throughout the day yesterday, we spoke with our British colleagues. They confirmed to us that there had indeed been, in recent weeks, an increase in the number of Covid cases in children. », Indicates Professor Christèle Gras le Guen, president of the French Pediatric Society. “But at this point, they are not sure if this is a sign that the new variant is much more transmissible in children or if the increase in the number of cases in this population is simply related to the fact that the circulation of the virus is also. much stronger in adults ”
“At the moment, there is no strong evidence to say that this new variant would be more dangerous for children, she adds. Our British colleagues even tell us that their services are almost empty. This is also the case with us elsewhere. It’s even quite incredible because in this winter period, we are usually packed with “gastro” and bronchiolitis. However, with the barrier measures imposed by the Covid, we no longer see these pathologies at this time “.
” All our students are all masked from 6 years old “
For all these reasons, the president of the French Pediatric Society believes that“As it is, there is no place” in France to postpone the start of the school year. “A big difference with England is also that our pupils are all masked from the age of 6”, she specifies.
However, just like Professor Flahault, other epidemiologists would have liked a postponement of the start of the school year. “At least for a week, if only to better adjust, in this post-holiday period, the health protocols in the establishments. We know that, in our country, the level of circulation of the virus is high and this postponement of the re-entry could have been one means, among others, of slowing it down a little “, underlines Professor Mahmoud Zureik (University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines).
→ MAINTENANCE. Jean-François Mattei: “We must vaccinate faster and more widely”
In fact, there is still great uncertainty over the impact of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. “The only reliable indicator remains that of the number of admissions to hospital and intensive care. And we will only see this week the effect that the Christmas reunion could have ”, underlines Samuel Alizon, epidemiologist at the CNRS. “ We will then have to wait another week to measure the impact of December 31. It is therefore only in mid-January that we will see more clearly and that, perhaps, the government will make stricter measures at school or elsewhere. », Adds Pascal Crépey, teacher-researcher at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health.
In the meantime, the association of parents of FCPE students intends to challenge the executive in the next few days. ” There is an urgent need for clarification of the public word which is very vague today on the health risks in schools, deplores its president Rodrigo Arenas. Before taking a position, we want to have transparent answers very quickly on the level of contamination of children with this new variant and to know whether, yes or not, schools are possible places of cluster ”.