TEACHERS’ unions in France held a nationwide day of protests and strikes on Tuesday to call for stricter sanitary measures in schools as coronavirus infections continued to soar across the country.
Students in the French capital clashed with police on Monday in more angry protests over health risks posed by schools being open during the coronavirus crisis.
The clashes came a week after riot police pepper-sprayed students who blockaded a Paris high school in protest over inadequate sanitary measures.
The local police department said on Twitter that on Monday four arrests had been made, one fireman had suffered minor injuries and that there had been ‘unacceptable’ incidents of criminal damage caused during the clashes.
Videos on social media showed a group of youths surrounding a police car outside the Lycee Mireille Grenet school in central Paris and trying to overturn it, while other videos showed fires burning in the street.
Teachers’ unions say the government must urgently hire more staff so that classes, which average more than 30 pupils, can be split into smaller groups and spread out to ensure social distancing.
This is despite the Education Ministry seeking to allay concerns by allowing secondary schools to offer more online teaching, on the condition that pupils take at least 50% of classes at school.
The one-day nationwide strike was called by a group of five teaching unions, representing teachers in primary schools, secondary and lycée.
A representative for the Snes-FSU union told French TV channel BFM: ‘We must now go further to ensure the safety of staff, students and their families with measures for secondary schools – much forgotten in the ministerial announcements; a clear framework for the functioning of half classes; details on other elements of the health protocol, including cleaning and ventilation of rooms, which remain vague in the current protocol.’
Meanwhile, the saturation of hospitals, lack of resources, exhaustion of nursing staff … the disastrous management of the health crisis has given rise to new confinement while France is affected by the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic, the CGT trade union federation warned on Monday.
Faced with the saturation of resuscitation services and the lack of beds, the government imposed a new confinement in early November.
8,500 beds have disappeared since Emmanuel Macron came to power
This deficit of beds is largely the responsibility of various members of the government in power: Roselyne Bachelot, Minister of Health from 2007 to 2010, eliminated nearly 40,000 beds and 8,500 beds have disappeared since the coming to power of Emmanuel Macron .
Worse, after the first wave, the government continued to close beds and demand billions in savings from the public hospital system (4 billion euros in savings imposed on the public hospital under the 2021 PLFSS) , that is, to carry out the same policy that left the hospital bloodless.
In fact, the current crisis is essentially due to the inability of our health system to manage both the usual sick and an increase in activity linked to the epidemic.
If we had armed the intensive care units with the 12,000 beds requested (compared to 5,800 today), the hospital system would be less strained.
It should be remembered that even with this potential, France would still remain behind Germany, which in normal times has over 15,000 beds.
Healthcare workers today suffer from professional exhaustion
Already tested by the first wave, healthcare workers must now face the second wave of coronavirus as much as the government’s negligence in its management of the crisis.
The majority of them today suffer from burnout. According to a survey carried out by the National Order of Nurses in early October, 57% of respondents are ‘in a situation of professional exhaustion’.
More than a third of salaried nurses indicate that they are ‘small in numbers compared to normal’, and 57% believe ‘they do not have the time necessary to take care of patients’.
According to the National Order of Nurses, the lessons learned from the first wave are not sufficiently taken into account and hospital management are deaf to the exhaustion of caregivers. Some departments even go so far as to ask them to prove that they are really exhausted.
In this context, our organisation launched its campaign ‘Train-Hire-We are exhausted’ with a survey on the identification of needs, service by service and establishment by establishment.
The first urgency is the recruitment of personnel. We are calling for a massive hiring plan of at least 400,000 people:
- 100,000 in the hospitals
- 200,000 in nursing homes
- 100,000 for home help
Last week, the CGT also condemned the ‘contact tracing’ system piloted by the Health Insurance and the regional health agencies (ARS) as being increasingly ineffective, even though it mobilises Social Security staff to the detriment of their missions and prevents the taking taking into account the needs of the insured persons.
The ineffective ‘test, alert, protect’ policy
However, since September we have had rapid antigenic tests allowing a result to be obtained in fifteen minutes. Although a little less efficient than conventional tests, their superiority in terms of efficiency is the speed in obtaining the result, which allows immediate isolation and thus limits a large number of contaminations.
As is the case for PCR tests carried out by private laboratories over which the government has no control, today no national strategy exists on antigenic tests: 5 million tests have been bought, but we do not know who ordered them or who controls them.
Each health actor seems to source from its side, without national regulation guaranteeing good distribution in the territory and without national negotiation which would allow wholesale purchase at lower prices.
The concentration of all Social Security resources on Covid-19 heralds a social and health disaster
After having worn out the caregivers, however presented as ‘heroes’, the government over-mobilises the personnel of Social Security within the ‘brigades of guardian angels’ as the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran likes to call them.
These teams have been over-mobilised seven days a week, weekends included, since the month of May, to the detriment of labour rights for employees in the sector. Social Security staff who no longer carry out their daily tasks , but are nevertheless essential for patients and users.
Like the health system, which due to the lack of resources is unable to manage both the usual sick and an increase in activity linked to the epidemic, the social security services are no longer able to respond to their primary missions.
The processing of files is delayed and accumulates without meeting the urgent needs of the populations on the ground. Here again this device is a time bomb at the social and health level in the months to come.
A record as disturbing as it is uncontrolled
Although the use of massive testing was presented as the best defence against the spread of the epidemic, the French government preferred to set up an information system managed by the Health Insurance to fight against the epidemic. The modalities of operation raise serious concerns.
Apart from the fact that this data is stored without the consent of individuals, the confidentiality of personal and medical data is not guaranteed. It is at the same time ineffective in protecting the population, intrusive and dangerous in matters of individual and public freedoms.
This system is a profound challenge to the professional values of these professions by going against their code of ethics.
Once again, this government, in the most total cynicism, is using this health crisis to undermine individual freedoms.
Health insurance is made complicit in the largest filing of sensitive data to compensate for a cruel lack of resources directly linked to the ultraliberal policies of our governments.