And yet schools across France have remained open during the latest lockdown, in sharp contrast to New York City, which closed schools after its average test positivity rate climbed to 3 percent before abruptly deciding to reopen elementary schools over the weekend.
Even as the virus has surged again in Europe, classrooms across the continent have largely remained open despite increasing restrictions, in a significant departure from the first lockdowns last spring. Based in part on scientific evidence that young children are low transmitters of the virus, the decisions have helped soften the pandemic’s academic and economic blows.
“Obviously, the decline has been slower because schools are open, but we had to find a middle ground,” said Yazdan Yazdanpanah, an infectious disease specialist and a member of France’s Scientific Council, which advises the government on the pandemic. But, he added, the slower drop in infections has been offset by positive effects on education, mental health and the economy.
Three months into France’s school year, schools have not become a major driver of infections. Only 7,776 schoolchildren tested positive for the coronavirus last week, or just 0.06 percent of the country’s 12 million schoolchildren, according to figures released by the Education Ministry.
On Nov. 27, out of 61,500 schools, only 19 primary schools, three middle schools and three high schools were closed because of outbreaks.
France’s experience, at least so far, suggests that it is possible to flatten the curve, or bend it down, even when schools are open. A week ago, France’s 14-day rate of infection was nearly 800 per 100,000 people; as of Wednesday, it had dropped to 483.
With schools open, parents have been able to focus on their work at home or commuting to their workplaces, which has helped blunt the second lockdown’s depression on the economy. The country has shuttered cafes and restaurants through at least mid-January, but allowed essential sectors to keep operating. The Eiffel Tower, it was announced on Tuesday, will reopen on Dec. 16; the monument, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Paris, has been closed since late October.
In other global developments:
Also in France, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that he was considering implementing a widespread vaccination campaign next spring after a more targeted one for health workers and vulnerable populations. Mr. Macron, speaking at a news conference in Paris alongside Alexander De Croo, the Belgian prime minister, said there would probably be a first wave of priority vaccinations in early 2021 with first-generation vaccines, which might prove logistically complex to deploy. But Mr. Macron repeated that getting a vaccine would not be mandatory, and he insisted instead on a “strategy of conviction and transparency.”
Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, said on Tuesday that Yehya Sinwar, its chief in the territory, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Hamas said that Mr. Sinwar was doing “well” and was working while in quarantine.
Vietnam suspended commercial flights on Tuesday, two days after its first case was confirmed in 89 days. Two additional cases were reported in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, both linked to a flight attendant who officials said violated quarantine regulations. Officials were working to trace the contacts of the three infected people, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged vigilance in prevention measures.
Ireland exited a six-week lockdown on Tuesday, reopening nonessential businesses, gyms and religious services. Health officials still discourage socializing, but groups of six people will be permitted inside bars and restaurants serving substantial meals starting on Friday.
The Netherlands began requiring masks in public buildings on Tuesday, making it one of Europe’s last countries to introduce the mandate. The government had long discouraged the use of masks, saying they promoted a false sense of security, before an abrupt shift in October when they advised people to use them. Violations under the new law will carry a fine of 95 euros, or $114.
In Spain, the regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, inaugurated her flagship infrastructure project: a new hospital on Tuesday focused on patients affected by epidemics like Covid-19. The hospital has no patients yet, as only a quarter of its infrastructure has been installed and its medical staff is incomplete. Ms. Díaz Ayuso told reporters on Tuesday that “a new hospital can never be bad news,” but the project, which she announced in May, has come under intense criticism, with medical professionals and opposition politicians calling on her government to instead strengthen staffing and resources at existing hospitals.
After a Franciscan convent in northwestern Germany without a single known Covid-19 case tested its 161 nuns, 76 of the tests came back positive on Monday, signaling a potentially dangerous cluster in a religious community with many elderly members. “We have an outbreak,” Sister Maria Cordis Riker, who heads the convent, said in a telephone interview. “But we are grateful that so far, the course of the disease has been mild and no one is in hospital.” Local health authorities are trying to find out how the virus got into the convent, which has limited visits during the pandemic. For more than a century, the convent has maintained continuous prayer around the clock, but social distance and health regulations have obliged it to cut back to 50 percent of capacity — one nun praying at a time, instead of the usual two.