Amid strict health protocols schools and offices, opened in France on Tuesday after months of restrictions to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wearing masks, nearly 12.4 million children walked to schools, the first time since March. An estimated 25.5 million people also returned to work from their offices in the country.

Masks have been made compulsory for all students over the age of 11, which means those studying in middle school and above.

Since the lockdown enforced by the pandemic, students have not been inside classrooms. Many of them studying form home lacked the necessary technology — computers or phones to receive assignments.

Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, however, said that only 4% of students dropped out over the lockdown periods, which also came with summer break. Speaking to BFM TV, the minister declared that all schools, high schools, and colleges and now open.

Reassuring parents, he said the government is prepared and taking all precautions.

“We are well prepared. I tell them [parents]. Do not be afraid. Education is fundamental. We need schools. They are not something superfluous, “he said.

President Macron also offered encouragement in a video message posted on Instagram on Monday evening.

“I am counting on you a lot from tomorrow morning to apply barrier gestures, wearing a mask, and all the rest. And also, to follow what your teachers will tell you, “he told students.

The authorities are using precautions like enforcing physical distancing, use of masks by students, and all 866,000 teachers. The masks are mandatory even on playgrounds. The decision of space for physical distancing has been left to school authorities.

“All adults at schools — college and high school – must wear the mask. Full stop, no exception,” Blanquer said at a press conference last week while announcing the decision to reopen the education sector.

More teachers and teaching hours

Children will only be tested if they show symptoms. Blanquer said the government will assess its move in mid-September. He said the government has added 1,600 teaching positions in primary schools and 1.5 million more teaching hours in secondary standards to provide personalized support to students.

Igor Garncarzyk, secretary-general of the Snupden-FSU teachers union told the BFM TV that implementation lies with the schools.

“It will be difficult to keep the mask on all the time. That will be one of the great difficulties,” he pointed out.

According to Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne, wearing masks has been made compulsory in offices.

The protocols allow employees to remove the mask at certain times during the day, based on necessity.

Enforcement of wearing masks at work is also dictated by whether a company is located in a green, orange, or red zone. The color-coded system given to each locality all over France depicts vulnerability and the probability of the presence of the virus.

Most serious restrictions are enforced in the red zone. In the green zone, workers can move freely if there is enough ventilation as well as protective screens placed on their desks to separate them from the visitors.

Those who work alone in offices are not required to wear a mask. The case of wearing masks by those who work in open-air spaces should be taken on a case-by-case basis, said the government order.

The country’s Health Ministry has reported an increase of 3,082 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours. According to the US-based Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, France has reported 302,175 COVID-19 cases with 30,495 deaths. As many as 29 fatalities were recorded on Monday, while 4,582 people remain in hospital with 409 of those in intensive care.

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