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French parents: school's back and already we have COVID cases

PARIS (Reuters) - COVID-19 has forced the closure of a dozen schools in France just days into the new academic year, the government said on Friday, as coronavirus cases surge in parts of the country.

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In some other cases the school stayed open, but classes with outbreaks of infection were sent home, worrying parents who have only just shipped their children back to school after the summer holiday.

“It’s just the third day, they’ve just started, and there are already (virus) cases,” said Giancarlo Ambrosini, whose son’s primary school in Paris sent home two classes for a fortnight.

Though his son was not caught up in the closure, Ambrosini said he and his partner - who spent the spring coronavirus lockdown in Italy - would need a backup plan were the school to close. “We both work, so it’s not easy.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said the overwhelming majority of France’s 12 million pupils had returned without any problems and glitches were to be expected.

The school year began on Tuesday.

Pupils aged 11 and over must wear masks at all times. Attendance is mandatory, though schools can adapt to surges in local infections by limiting numbers for a few days or weeks - again forcing some parents to juggle work and childcare.

Some parents and teachers’ unions had voiced concerns that the virus could spread through classrooms.

“The dynamic looks terribly like what we experienced before lockdown,” Jean-Andre Lasserre, head of School Parents’ Union FCPE in Paris, said of the virus’ spread in the capital.

“How will we ensure that parents who are put into self-isolation because of the children do not lose any income because they cannot go to work?”

The education ministry told Reuters that, for now, affected parents would have to take holiday. It said the labour ministry was working on a measure to ensure that one parent could take paid leave without sacrificing annual holiday.

France reported more than 7,000 new infections on Thursday, nearing the record of 7,578 set on March 31.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Caroline Pailliez; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Giles Elgood