Schools and universities have become a major source of new Covid-19 infections in France, accounting for about a third of clusters detected in the past few days.
Until last week, many of the country’s new coronavirus cases had originated in workplaces. But Public Health France says the spread of Covid-19 is now accelerating faster in schools and universities, with 285 new clusters compared with 195 in workplaces.
Many teachers have complained that restrictions have been eased in schools and universities while they are being tightened for bars, rest and social gatherings.
The government, however, says only 19 schools are now closed because pupils or staff have caught the virus, compared with about 2,000 ten days ago. Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, said: “This indicates that barrier measures are working and rules are being followed.”
The official figures group schools and universities together, but doctors are demanding a separate tally for universities. They argue that students are more likely to transmit the virus than schoolchildren and the start of the university term has increased the risk.
Patrick Goldstein, head of emergencies at Lille Teaching Hospital, said: “We know children aren’t highly contagious but students are vectors of contamination like any other adults.”
Bars and restaurants in Marseille close from Monday for at least a week as President Emmanuel Macron tries to stave off a revolt over the restrictions. Marseille’s mayor and senator have spoken out against the measures, which they say were imposed by central government in Paris without properly consulting them. They have warned that many people may defy the new rules.
Restrictions are also being tightened from Monday in Paris, Lyon and nine other cities, with bars to close at 10pm. Gyms and sports centres will be closed and no more than 10 people will be allowed to gather together in public spaces. Weddings and other private social events will be limited to 30 people.
A months-long epidemic could overwhelm France’s health system, a top doctor has warned.
Patrick Bouet, head of the French Medical Association, criticised Olivier Véran, the health minister, for failing to warn that “in three or four weeks, if nothing changes, France will face a widespread outbreak across its whole territory, for several long autumn and winter months.”
Dr Bouet said there would be too few health workers to meet all the demands, with many “too exhausted or traumatised” to cope with a second wave.
On Saturday France reported 14,412 new cases over the previous 24 hours, slightly lower than the record of more than 16,000 on Thursday.