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Half of French schools may close due to teachers strike over COVID-19 concerns

Half of French schools may close due to teachers strike over COVID-19 concerns
French President Emmanuel Macron is seen during a visit at a school in Marseilles, France, on September 2, 2021. Macron has touted keeping France's schools open in the COVID-19 era as a major accomplishment. File Photo by Daniel Cole/EPA-EFE

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- About half of schools in France were expected to close Thursday due to a mass teachers strike over complaints about COVID-19 safety protocols in classrooms and other ways that the government is handling the pandemic.

About a dozen teachers unions across France called for the walkout as a protest and a call for change.

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The French government has changed COVID-19 rules three times since children returned to classrooms this month, and many teachers say that lax safety protocols are threatening students and staff. Prime Minister Jean Castex relaxed protocols again on Monday, which spurred calls for the strike.

French President Emmanuel Macron painted a different picture this week when he said that keeping schools open in the COVID-19 era has been one of the country's greatest accomplishments -- a view shared by education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

Union officials said about 75% of teachers are expected to participate in the labor walkout on Thursday, and the shortages may close about half of all schools in France.

The walkout comes amid a surge in coronavirus infections across France that are being driven, as in most other parts of the world, by the more contagious Omicron variant. This week, the country has averaged about 350,000 new cases per day.

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Eleven unions are taking part in Thursday's walkout, including close to 40% of primary school teachers and a quarter of secondary school teachers.

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