France eases Covid rules for schools as infections soar

No more PCR/antigen tests, emergency pick-ups from school and multiple attestations to fill out: here's how the Covid protocol is changing in French schools.

A school class in the French city of Lyon.
A school class in the French city of Lyon. The government has changed the Covid protocol is schools in response to soaring case numbers. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

France on Monday announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes and sparked concern among parents and teachers.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told France 2 television that more than 10,000 classes — two percent of the total — had to be cancelled because of coronavirus outbreaks, but that the government would not “shut down the schools or the country”.

France has suffered more than 125,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and on Monday recorded 93,896 new coronavirus cases as the highly contagious Omicron variant drives up daily infections to record highs.

Under the first change, from Tuesday, parents will no longer be obliged to pick up their child immediately for Covid testing if he or she is a contact case of a virus sufferer. Instead, they can wait until the end of the school day. 

Three self-tests, performed on the day of contact, plus days 2 and 4, will be deemed sufficient for contact cases rather than testing at an officially approved site, with the parents signing a single certificate to confirm all three results.

You can find a template for such an attestation here – but you should change the title to: Réalisation d’autotests and provide the dates for all the dates when your child took self-dates. 

Prior to the new rules, pupils first had to take a PCR or antigen test immediately after learning that they had come into contact with an infected classmate. They then had to take self-tests on days 2 and 4 following the initial test. Parents had to sign individual attestations declaring that the self-tests had been carried out. 

The test kits, available from pharmacies, will be free.

One teaching assistant checking test results outside a Paris junior school on Tuesday said: “We are totally confused between the rules of the last protocol and then new one just announced. For the children it is awful to have to do all these tests.”

France’s biggest primary teachers’ union the SNUipp-FSU, which denounced the “indescribable mess” in the school system and “a strong feeling of abandonment and anger among the staff”, has called for a national strike on Thursday.

Most of the country’s other teaching unions have signed up to the proposal.

SNUipp-FSU secretary-general Guislaine David was unimpressed by Castex’s announcement.

“It displays total contempt for the teachers who are on the ground. This will not at all reduce the number of contaminations at school,” she said.

“On the contrary, it will multiply them tenfold, because a certificate on the honour of the parents is now sufficient.”

More than 100,000 people across France protested Saturday over what they say are government plans to further restrict the rights of the unvaccinated.

Member comments

  1. Are schools now allowed to test children without permission of the parents? How high is the fine for parents who refuse to test their children? By the way how do people know they are positive? Are they really all having the app installed and allow notifications? Than run to get a test with the slightest discomfort? Are people really testing by an headache, throadache or when they feel well but are a contact case? Wow! I never tested ones and have no intention to do so, yes I got vaccinated, I am only anti-test LOL.

    1. That’s not how it works. Two of my children have been out since last Wednesday as ‘contact cases’ because there was at least 1 case of covid in each of their classes. No students in these classes were allowed to go back without an official test result from a pharmacy or testing center. But, once they had that result, they could go back, and then do autotests (home tests) 2 and 4 days after the contact case is reported. I chose not to test my children at all (they are only 3 and 7 years old) and instead keep them home for 7 days. This is an option, and not something that gets punished. Same with the new light protocol. You can’t force a 3 year old to take 3 home tests (it’s dangerous if they don’t stay perfectly still) so the option to simply isolate for 7 days is there. Most of the children in their classes did not go back because no appointments were available. Some parents drove over an hour to get their kids tested, and others waited for up to 2 hours in the pharmacy. Poor kids! In our village school, 4 out of the 6 classes currently have covid cases, meaning most of the school population just isn’t present now. And of course, Thursday nearly all the teachers are striking anyway.

    2. I just dropped off my son at his centre de loisir, where an alarmed parent just dropped of their cas contact kid without proof of a negative test, after arguing with the young animators for 20 mins. Because there’s so much confusion and frustration, the protocol is really only half-hazardly being followed anyway.

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Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).