France's president insisted Thursday that the country will send millions of students back to school starting September 1, despite the biggest weekly spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the height of its national outbreak in March and April. President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also pledged during a joint news conference that European countries would work more closely in the coming weeks to coordinate virus protection measures and vaccine supplies.
A wave of chaotic border closures followed when the virus first swept the continent. France's national health agency reported 4,771 new infections Thursday, and more than 18,000 new cases over the past week the biggest weekly rise since April.
Authorities attributed the increase to summer vacation parties and family gatherings, and to workplace clusters emerging as people returned to their jobs from a strict lockdown. Concerns are mounting among teachers and parents in France that schools won't be able to keep the virus at bay with children in classrooms. A leading teachers' union asked the government this week to delay the start of the school year.
"The return to school will happen in the coming days, Macron said. "We will not bring our countries to a halt, but we will have to learn to live with the virus." Germany reported 1,707 new daily cases Thursday, which officials blamed on travelers returning from other countries and private get-togethers. Germany's death toll in the pandemic, at 9,253, remains much lower than the 30,480 virus-related deaths reported in France.
Several German states have reopened schools, and several schools had to shut down classes or their entire buildings again because students or teachers subsequently tested positive with the virus. Merkel said she and Macron agreed that we need to work much closer together so that the people get the feeling something is being done on a European level to fight the pandemic.
"If German high school graduates don't celebrate in Germany because they're not allowed to, but then they can travel to other countries where that goes wonderfully, then that will not work out well on the long run," she said. Macron said "there's no reason" to close French borders again, and that European partners need to harmonize safety rules and avoid errors we made earlier in the crisis.