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Staying out of school amid coronavirus crisis a 'time bomb': French PM

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe during a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe during a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly   -   Copyright  Ludovic Marin / POOL via AP
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French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe defended the government's decision to reopen some schools on May 11 during a speech before the Senate.

"COVID-19 is toxic but staying out of school and social life is just as much," said Philippe who emphasised that not every student would return to school.

"Five months out of school for thousands, tens of thousands of students is likely a time bomb," Philippe added.

Many have questioned the government's decision to reopen schools as other European countries have kept schools closed even as they phase out lockdown restrictions.

Philippe said that opening schools was an "educational, social, and republican priority" although not everyone will return physically to school.

Elementary classes will return gradually to school on May 11 with fewer students in classes.

Wearing masks in secondary school, once they reopen later this month, will be necessary if social distancing cannot be maintained, Philippe added.

"We are at a critical moment because we cannot stay locked down," said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. On Tuesday France will have been locked down for seven weeks.

"Our economic life must resume imperatively and quickly," he insisted.

'Every day of lockdown counts'

Philippe also announced an additional aide of 200 euros to 800,000 young people under the age of 25, in a precarious situation.

"This sum will be paid in early June to students who have lost their job or their internship and to isolated overseas students who have been unable to return home," said the Prime Minister.

"It will be paid in mid-June to young people under 25, precarious or modest, who receive housing assistance," he added.

The government will also provide five million masks for vulnerable people per week.

France will decide in the weeks following the lifting of lockdown restrictions whether or not to allow religious services at the end of May, he announced.

"To keep the country in lockdown would be to put our future life in great danger," Philippe added.

Yet "every day of lockdown counts," he added as he implored French people to hold out for a final week after fine weather brought many people outside on Sunday.

Plan rejected

Philippe was speaking before senators on Monday ahead of their vote on the government's legislation to phase out lockdown.

Senators rejected it by 89 votes to 81, with 174 abstentions.

But the rejection is only likely to be a symbolic one and will not impact on the plan to lift confinement from May 11, reported AFP news agency.