Schools Reopen In France Amid Coronavirus Concerns
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Thirteen million French students went back to school today. Teachers and students from middle school onwards have to wear masks when they're there. And there are all kinds other precautions in place, too, because, as this happens, the virus is actually on the rise. We go now to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Eleanor, you are out there in front of a school. What's the mood?
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. Yeah. I'm in the 15th arrondissement - not too far from the Seine River - in front of a middle school. This school is called Guillaume Apollinaire, named after a French poet. And this school is an example of why the French government was so eager to get back - one of the reasons. It serves a lot of low-income children. And they fell behind during confinement, people with, you know, slower internet connections or fewer computers. So you know, the government wanted to get people back.
The school just broke up for lunch. The cafeteria is not in session yet. And parents came out to meet their kids. Everyone was wearing a mask, you know, kids and their parents. I would say that the mood today is very hopeful like the sunny weather we're having. You know, people aren't entirely sure what's going to happen. But they really seem ready to try. I went to an elementary school this morning. And I spoke to Toma Bualo (ph), who's the father of an 11-year-old, who was going back today for the first time since France went into lockdown in March. And he told me how he was feeling.
TOMA BUALO: OK, you know, apprehension. To be honest, not sure what it's going to be like in the next couple of weeks. So - and then he's happy to come back and see his friends and have some sense of normalcy. But we're not sure exactly what it's going to be like in the next few weeks. So we'll see.
MARTIN: I mean, cautious optimism. But at the same time, as I noted at the top, Eleanor, infections are on the rise, aren't they?
BEARDSLEY: They are, Rachel, around 3,000 a day, sometimes more. It went up to 7,000 in a 24-hour period a couple days ago. But it's largely spreading around - among young people, people under 40. You know, there are a lot more precautions in place in Paris and, since yesterday, in Lyon, France's second largest city. It's now mandatory to wear a mask inside and outside, wherever you are. And as of today as well, people have to wear masks inside office buildings and companies except for if you're alone in an office, a closed office. But, you know, I spoke with an epidemiologist the other day. And he said the virus is meeting a totally different population than what it hit, you know, last spring when people really didn't have a clue. Today, people are social distancing. They're wearing masks. And they're very aware.
MARTIN: Right. So hopefully that keeps the spreading down.
MARTIN: But, I mean, it is sort of this push and pull, right? I mean, if the rate of infection goes up significantly, I mean, what happens to the school you're standing in front of right now? Are they nimble enough that they can close and reopen when it gets better?
BEARDSLEY: Yeah. There's no hard, hard set plans. Everything is - there are contingency plans in place, very flexible. And one teacher told me her school has planned that if there are new infections, half the class will stay in and learn. And the other half will tune in remotely to the same class at home. And then they'll alternate.
You know, President Macron, he went on TV this week, himself wearing a mask. And he beseeched the nation. He said, please, keep up the precautions. Wear your masks. Social distance. Wash your hands - everything we've been doing. He said, we cannot afford to shut this country down again. So there's a lot of pressure on people to keep up the social distancing - all these barrier gestures, as they're called here. And we'll see how it goes. But I think people are pretty much hopeful.
MARTIN: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris outside of a school there. Thanks, Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.