Sharp rise in class closures across France as Covid cases rise

The number of school classes in France closed because of Covid cases is the highest since the start of the new school year in September, Ministry of Education figures show.

An empty school classroom, with chairs stacked on desks and overhead electric lights switched on
Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP

A total of 4,048 classes are closed across the country, figures released on November 19th reveal, a sharp rise from the 1,246 closures recorded when the official number of class closures was last published on October 22nd, before the Toussaint school holidays.

The previous record high for the current school year showed 3,299 classes were closed on September 16th, a fortnight after pupils returned after the summer holidays. The number of closures then fell steadily to a low of 1,180 on October 14th, before starting to rise again.

The number of confirmed cases among students has also exploded, with 10,962 positive cases registered this week compared to 3,620 in the seven days to October 21st.

Over the whole country, Covid cases are running at around 10,000 per day, meaning that roughly one in seven of all cases are among school-age children.

Covid rates among school staff are also rising, with 776 confirmed cases on November 18th, compared to 257 on October 21st.

Facemasks have been compulsory for children in all primary schools across France since November 15th, when the Ministry of Education raised health protocols to level two across the whole of the country. They had previously been reintroduced in 40 départements after the Toussaint holidays.

On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron said France would not impose a lockdown on the unvaccinated like the one seen in Austria, but he did not rule out expanding the booster dose programme to more of the general population.

A day previously, government spokesman Gabriel Attal had said that France ‘can manage fifth Covid wave without extra restrictions’.

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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.