Coronavirus: ‘Heartbreaking’ photo shows nursery children in France forced to play in isolation chalk squares after lockdown

'The children play, dance, jump, laugh together… but from this square'

Kate Ng
Wednesday 13 May 2020 16:07 BST

A photograph of nursery school children sitting apart from each another in squares drawn on the ground in chalk has caused sadness and outrage in France.

The picture was taken by TV journalist Lionel Top on Tuesday in the northern town of Tourcoing, on the border with Belgium. It shows a group of seven children trying to play while being isolated by chalk squares.

Around 1.5 million elementary and primary school pupils returned to classes this week after the French government relaxed restrictions after almost two months of coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Top said: “The children are coming back today (a small number of them). Very strange, even disturbing atmosphere.

“To ensure respect for distances, while taking advantage of recreation, the teaching team drew squares on the ground for the little ones.”

He added: “The children play, dance, jump, laugh together… but from this square. From what we have seen, they do not view it as a punishment.”

Education historian Laurence De Cock also posted the photo on her Twitter, adding: “I cannot get over it. This image is heartbreaking. We cannot call this ‘school’.”

The photo was shared widely, with many lamenting that the children looked like they were “prisoners” and criticising the need for distancing as “inhuman”.

One person said: “School is about playing together, growing up together… It is learning to live in society. There, in this photo, you look like prisoners.”

Another said: “This photo… so insane. No, school is definitely not that!”

“If man is a social animal, then this distancing takes away this humanity,” said another. “Yes, it’s monstrous for the future of our children.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education in Paris told The Mirror the government had given no “specific instruction” to schools to draw chalk squares for student to play in, but emphasised that everyone has been told to “maintain social distancing”.

On the second day of loosening the strict nationwide lockdown, France’s death toll overtook Spain’s on Tuesday, rising by 348 to 26,991. The country now has the world’s fourth-highest number of Covid-19 fatalities after the US, Britain and Italy.

Across the channel, in the UK, the very gradual easing of lockdown this week has not yet allowed schools to reopen.

The UK government has said primary schools may “may be able to welcome back children in key transition years” from the beginning of June “at the earliest”.

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