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HEALTH

First case of deadly SARS-like virus in France

France's health ministry on Wednesday reported the country's first case of a SARS-like virus that has killed 18 people so far, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

First case of deadly SARS-like virus in France
A foreign staff nurse on her way to a hospital in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where 11 people have died from the virus. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP

An unidentified person who came back to France from a trip to the United Arab Emirates was diagnosed with the deadly novel coronavirus, the ministry said.

"This is the first and only confirmed case in France to date," it added.

The patient is currently in intensive care in hospital and has been placed in isolation.

The virus, known in medical jargon as nCoV-EMC, was first detected in September 2012 and since then more than 30 cases have been reported in different countries, with 18 deaths.

While it has been deadliest in Saudi Arabia, where 11 people have been killed by the virus, other cases have been reported in Jordan, Germany, Britain and now France.

It is a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which triggered a scare 10 years ago when it erupted in east Asia, leaping to humans from animal hosts and eventually killing some 800 people.

Like SARS, the new virus appears to cause an infection deep in the lungs, but it also differs from SARS in that it also causes rapid kidney failure.

The World Health Organisation does not so far have enough information to determine how the virus is transmitted or from where it originates, but it has called for international vigilance.

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HEALTH

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.

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