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French education minister under fire over Ibiza trip as Covid rages

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France’s education minister faced calls to resign Tuesday after regretting the “symbolism” of a holiday escape to Ibiza, where he announced a strict Covid testing protocol for students that sparked a fierce backlash from teachers. Jean-Michel Blanquer, a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron, unveiled the new testing and isolation rules in a video interview with the Parisien newspaper on January 2, just hours before classes were to resume after the holiday break.The paper did not specify that Blanquer, who has infuriated teachers with successive protocol changes that prompted a major strike last week, was speaking from the Spanish island resort of Ibiza — a photo alongside the article portrayed him in his office.The new rules forced thousands of classes to close and left students waiting in long lines with their parents outside pharmacies and labs for tests.The government eased the testing rules after widespread criticism, and in the wake of last week’s strike it promised five million high-grade FFP2 masks for school staff and to hire thousands of teachers and other staff to replace those forced to isolate after contracting Covid or coming into contact with an infected person.Unions dismissed the pledges as insufficent and called a fresh one-day walkout for Thursday, ahead of a massive strike on January 27 to denounce the “chaos” from the government’s handling of the crisis.”It’s terrible — it deepens the chasm that already existed between the minister and staff,” said Guislaine David, secretary general of the SNUipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers.”He is no longer worthy of his post,” she said.A government source told AFP, confirming a Politico report, that Prime Minister Jean Castex’s cabinet director had advised Blanquer not to make the trip given at a time when parents and teachers were on edge as the highly contagious Omicron Covid variant spread through schools.The Ibiza vacation came just days before Blanquer married a French journalist in a low-key ceremony on Saturday in Paris, political sources told AFP.’Regret’Blanquer told lawmakers in parliament Tuesday that he had done nothing wrong, but acknowledged that “I should have chosen another place” to announce the new testing rules.”I regret the symbolism,” he said, as opposition lawmakers urged his dismissal by President Emmanuel Macron, who is set to face the European Parliament on Wednesday as France takes the helm of the rotating EU presidency.Government spokesman Gabriel Attal defended Blanquer over what quickly became dubbed “Ibizagate” in the French press, saying the government only required ministers “to be reachable at all time” while on vacation.But teachers’ unions were unimpressed, denouncing a shortage of substitute teachers to replace Covid-stricken staff as well as a lack of masks and other personal protection equipment.A series of changes to the testing rules before Christmas had already stoked confusion and anger, prompting tens of thousands of teachers to walk off the job last Thursday.The revelations of the Ibiza trip by the investigative website Mediapart on Monday added to their fury, fuelling calls for further strikes this week and next.”Instead of preparing the return to class with teachers and parents, the minister staged a PR coup with his feet in the sand. This degree of contempt and irresponsibility is unacceptable,” Greens presidential candidate Yannick Jadot said on Twitter.”When improvisation is born from a lie, confidence is no longer possible,” Socialist party chief Olivier Faure said.In the wake of last week’s strike, Blanquer promised to provide five million high-grade FFP2 masks for school staff and to hire thousands of teachers and other staff to replace those forced to isolate after contracting Covid or coming into contact with an infected person.(AFP) Read More

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