Covid-19: No need to close schools over UK variant, says French scientific advisor

The French government’s top scientific advisor has said there is no need to close French classrooms even as he calls for new restrictive measures to stem the spread of the highly contagious “UK variant” of the novel coronavirus.

“We think English data on the variant are not definitive enough to lead us to recommend the closing of schools in France”, Jean-François Delfraissy, head of the scientific council advising the government on the epidemic, told France Info radio on Wednesday.

Delfraissy said the variant first detected in the UK accounted for an estimated 1% of the new Covid-19 infections in France.

“The immediate challenge is not to eliminate it but to slow its progression by taking a number of restrictive measures,” he added.

President Emmanuel Macron was meeting with senior ministers on Wednesday morning to discuss a possible further tightening of measures.

A nationwide curfew could be brought forward to 6pm from 8pm, as has already happened in some parts of the east and southeast, French media reported. A third nationwide lockdown is considered less likely.

The French health ministry reported 19,753 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Tuesday, up from Monday’s 3,582, while the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units continued to rise.

The death toll was up by 362 in hospitals over 24 hours at 68,802, the seventh-highest in the world.

As it scrambles to contain the spread of new Covid-19 variants, the French government is also racing to speed up its highly criticised vaccine rollout.

A list published on Tuesday evening showed that nearly 190,000 people have been vaccinated as the country continues to lag behind the likes of Britain and Germany.

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Opinion polls show around half the French population are sceptical about having the jab – their opposition notably higher than in neighbouring countries.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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