Covid: France schools to close under third lockdown

French schools will close for at least three weeks as part of new national restrictions to fight rising Covid cases, President Emmanuel Macron says.

Mr Macron said that schools would move to remote learning from next week.

Lockdown measures, introduced in some areas of France earlier this month, are also being extended to other districts.

All non-essential shops are to close from Saturday and there will be a ban on travelling more than 10km (six miles) from home without good reason.

The country is facing a peak of over 5,000 people in intensive care.

France has so far reported more than 4.6 million cases of coronavirus and 95,495 Covid-related deaths.

What measures has Macron announced?

In his live televised address on Wednesday, Mr Macron described the situation in the country as “delicate” and said that April would prove crucial. “We will lose control if we do not move now,” he said.

The 43-year-old president said it was a race between vaccinations on the one hand and attempting to control the spread of the virus on the other.

He said that while schools would be closing from next week, classes would remain open for the children of key workers.

Mr Macron said that measures introduced in 19 districts earlier this month – including the closure of non-essential businesses, exercise restricted to within 10km of an individual’s home and a ban on travel to other parts of the country without a valid reason – would be extended nationwide.

“Everyone should limit their contacts with other people,” he said, adding that people would be given the Easter weekend to get themselves to where they want to spend the lockdown.

He described “light at the end of the tunnel” if people respected the new measures.

Parliament will debate the measures announced by Mr Macron before voting on them on Thursday, according to the prime minister’s office.

Analysis box by Hugh Schofield, Paris correspondent

More than at previous turning-points, the politics of Covid in France is becoming interesting.

For one thing, President Macron has opened up a much clearer target now for the opposition – they can argue that his decision back in January to overrule the scientists and not launch a third lockdown was a blunder.

He was warned then that the so-called British variant would sweep all before it by the end of March – and lo and behold that is what has happened. And now he is eating his hat.

For his enemies, it is the result of Macron’s hubris – the insufferable self-belief that makes him think he knows better than the doctors.

The other reason it’s getting sensitive is the UK. Everyone in France can see how much better the vaccination programme is going there. If the UK starts resuming ordinary life while France is still struggling, tough questions will be asked of the president.

And elections are only a year away.

How serious is the situation in France? 

With serious cases of coronavirus increasing in France, the pressure on hospitals in the greater Paris region has resulted in a surge in demand for beds at intensive care units (ICUs). Hospitals in and around Paris have also been reducing non-Covid treatments.

The French hospital federation (FHF) last week warned that wards across the country were facing an “unprecedented violent shock” in the coming weeks if authorities were unable to curb the rise in cases. It urged the government to issue a “strict lockdown” or risk hospitals becoming overwhelmed. 

In an interview with France Inter radio on Tuesday, head of infectious diseases at the Tenon hospital in Paris, Gilles Pialoux, said that lockdown restrictions should have been implemented sooner.

“We’ve lost so much time that the measures now will be harder and last for longer,” Gilles Pialoux said, adding that hospital staff were “tired of being tired”.

Public support for a new national lockdown has reportedly been increasing in recent days, with an Elabe Institute poll published on Wednesday suggesting that 54% of citizens questioned backed the move.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Wednesday backed the closure of schools, saying the move – which had been seen by the government as a last resort – was necessary because of the “very serious situation”.

A group of French school teachers had earlier filed a legal complaint against Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer for “endangering the lives of others”, accusing him of failing to protect staff in regular contact with children in classrooms.

School cyber-attack affects 40,000 pupils’ email

A ransomware attack on multiple schools has left 37,000 pupils unable to access their email.

The Harris Federation, which runs 50 primary and secondary academies in and around London, said it had temporarily disabled email while it deals with the cyber-attack.

Data on the systems has been encrypted and hidden by the attackers.

Last week, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a warning that hackers are targeting schools.

‘Sophisticated attack’

“We are at least the fourth multi-academy trust to have been targeted in March,” a statement on the Harris Federation website said. 

“This is a highly sophisticated attack that will have a significant impact on our academies but it will take time to uncover the exact details of what has or has not happened, and to resolve.

“As a precaution, we have temporarily disabled our email system.”

Any devices which the Harris Federation have given to pupils have also been disabled, the statement added. 

However, schools have recently returned to in-person learning as part of the easing of lockdown restrictions – meaning students can still attend classes. captionTechnology explained: what is ransomware?

Harris Federation schools break up for Easter later this week.

Its statement did not detail what information or data has been compromised, and it has not yet responded to the BBC’s request for comment.

The trust is working with “a specialised firm of cyber-technology consultants”, the National Crime Agency and the NCSC to resolve the issues.

The NCSC said it has “recently alerted the education sector to the significant threat posed by ransomware attacks” and urged schools and colleges to follow its advice to protect themselves online.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Joe Tidy, Cyber reporter

It used to be the case that ransomware groups concentrated their efforts on large multinational companies.

Big corporate budgets and potential business interruption mean large ransom payouts.

Publicly funded schools and colleges are therefore an odd and particularly cruel target.

One hacker group recently posted part of their negotiation conversation with another unnamed institution on the dark net.

It made for grim reading, and once again showed me how ruthless they are.

At one stage, when the hackers demanded $15m, the school wrote: “Sir, please, this is NOT a business with profits. We operate much like a charity operates. This is a state-funded school, our salaries are paid for by taxing the people that live in the state. We have no idea how you think we can afford this.”

This wave of attacks in the US and UK show the hackers have no regard for where the money comes from or who is affected.

Cyber-attack on school: Pupils’ grading system tempered

Pupils’ coursework has been destroyed in a “significant” cyber-attack on a school.

Redborne School
image captionThe school said the attack was likely to cause long-term disruption

Redborne Upper School and Community College in Bedfordshire said the attack took place on Wednesday.

Although no data was taken, the school’s servers were left unreadable resulting in “the loss of a significant amount of data”, it added.

The school said it was working “to ensure that no students will be disadvantaged”.

In a letter sent to parents on Friday, the school, based in Flitwick Road, Ampthill, said it had rebuilt its servers.

It said: “This process has resulted in the loss of a significant amount of data including student user areas.”

The school said no data had left its servers “and no unauthorised persons have access to any information”.

Exam board discussions

Students’ personal data including academic records was kept on a different server, said the school.

The letter said: “It is this data that will form the basis of the grades we will be supplying to exam boards this summer in most cases.”

However, it added coursework, which would play “a significant role” in some subjects, had been lost.

“To mitigate this we have already contacted the exam boards and are in the process of putting in place arrangements to ensure that no students will be disadvantaged by the impact of this,” the letter said.

The school added it still has “sufficient data” to “award accurate grades this summer”.

The incident comes days after the University of Northampton reported it had been hit by a cyber-attack which had interrupted IT and telephone services.

The National Cyber Security Centre said since late February an increased number of ransomware attacks had affected education establishments.

Speaking on the Today programme on Friday, its chief executive Lindy Cameron said the coronavirus pandemic has “highlighted both the scale of our dependence on the digital world and the challenges we face”.

But she added the UK is “one of the safest places to live and work online”.