Around a third of pupils returned to French schools over the last week as stark photos of socially distanced lessons reveal 'a new normal' in the classroom.

Around 40,000 pre-schools and primary schools reopened on May 11, though attendance remains voluntary.

About 30% of children returned to the classroom.

Secondary schools in France's "green" regions, where coronavirus is not widely circulating, are gradually following suit this week with a staggered approach to reopening.  

As the pandemic continues, all school pupils will be required to wear masks, except kindergarteners due to concerns for misuse.

Schoolchildren raise their fingers to answer their teacher Sandrine Albiez, wearing a face mask, in a school in Strasbourg, eastern France
A child climbs the stairs to go in his classroom at the Vaucanson school, in Paris.

Photos taken inside schools over the past week show children sitting two metres apart from one another as the government caps class sizes at 15 pupils.

Children can also be seen using markers on floors to keep adequate space between themselves and their peers.

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In the toilets, pupils have been instructed to use every other sink to wash their hands to avoid coming into close contact with others.

Meanwhile, lunch staff at schools can be seen donning full PPE to reduce the risk of infection.

Children wash their hands at the Saint-Tronc Castelroc primary school in Marseille, southern France
School workers prepare lunch while wearing protective equipment in the kitchen at the Tanger B elementary school in Paris, France

Despite these measures, French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said there had since been a flare-up of about 70 Covid-19 cases linked to schools.

On Monday, Mr Blanquer told a French radio station that the affected schools were being closed immediately.

He did not specify if the 70 cases of Covid-19 were among students or teachers.

Students attend morning break while practicing social distancing at the Tanger B elementary school in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris, France. Of the usual 224 students only 26 were able to attend this day due to the new rules to fight the coronavirus pandemic

It's believed that the new cases were transmitted before classrooms re-opened, as the virus's incubation period lasts for several days.

Mr Blanquer said: "It’s inevitable this sort of thing will happen, but it’s a minority,” he said. “In almost all the cases, this happened outside of the school.”

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Coronavirus latest

To date, France has confirmed more than 180,000 cases of coronavirus - making it the seventh most infected country in the world.

It's recorded more than 28,000 deaths in people who have tested positive for the virus.