Twenty-two schools have been shut down in France and the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion due to coronavirus as cases soar in the country.
More than 12 million pupils returned to classrooms in France on Tuesday but some parents and teachers’ unions have expressed concern over the reopening of schools as the spread of COVID-19 accelerates.
There have been more than 7,000 new infections in France over a 24-hour period for the second time in two days following the summer holidays – the highest daily rate in Europe.
This is close to the country’s record of 7,578 set on 31 March.
It is well above the several hundred cases a day reported in May and June, when France was emerging from lockdown and testing fewer people.
The number of people in intensive care with coronavirus is also edging up, but it is well below the crisis levels of March and April.
More than 30,600 people with the virus have died in France, which has one of the highest fatality totals in Europe after Britain and Italy.
French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer confirmed the school closures, telling Europe 1 radio: “In mainland France there are currently 12 schools closed out of a total of over 60,000, which is a small figure.
“Adding 10 schools in La Reunion (island), that makes it 22.”
Defending the decision to send students back to school across the country, Mr Blanquer told France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper: “Not everything should be destroyed by the health situation.
“We must be vigilant, but not forget the educational and social imperatives, nor deviate from our two objectives: improving the educational level of each child and reducing inequalities.”
Government guidelines say students aged 11 and older are required to wear masks in French schools but a group of medical professionals argued it should also apply to children aged six and above.
Laure Gevaert, whose daughter studies in Saint-Leu-d’Esserent, north of Paris, backed children returning to class, saying: “I prefer her to be going to school.
“It’s not easy home-schooling, and I have to work too.”
But she also said the threat of a second wave was alarming.
“If there are cases at the school, that will worry me. I won’t send her in,” she added.
Authorities are also encouraging people to return to work, as the French government unveiled a €100bn (£88bn) recovery plan aimed at creating jobs and saving struggling businesses.
France is currently on the UK’s travel quarantine list, meaning anyone coming into the country needs to isolate at home for 14 days.
Earlier this week, pupils in England and Wales returned to classrooms for the start of the autumn term amid the pandemic.