Five British nationals confirmed as new coronavirus cases in France

France’s Health Minister announced on Saturday that five new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed on French soil, thought to have been brought in by a British national who spent time in Singapore in January.

Five British nationals confirmed as new coronavirus cases in France
Photo: AFP

French minister of health Agnès Buzyn held a press conference on Saturday morning in which she confirmed five new cases of the coronavirus in France, four adults and a child.

Describing it as a “cluster” and “a grouping of several cases around one initial case”, Buzyn said the five patients had been hospitalized on Friday night at university hospitals in Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Grenoble.

“The initial case was brought to our attention last night (Friday February 7),” France’s health minister told journalists.

“He is a British national who returned from Singapore where he had stayed from January 20 to 23.

“He arrived in France on January 24 for a four-day stay and he stayed in the commune of Contamines-Montjoie (Haute-Savoie).

All of the people confirmed infected by the coronavirus and the other contacts of the British national -“11 people in total” – are British nationals and lived in the same chalet, Buzyn added.

According to France's health minister, the clinical condition of all five confirmed coronavirus patients “isn't serious” enough to be life threatening.

The six other Britons staying in the same chalet in late January have also been hospitalised for observation.

Authorities in France and Singapore are now trying to contact people who came into close contact with the infected British national, Buzyn said.

He was on a business trip and had stayed at a hotel for an event with 94 other foreigners, according to senior health official Jerome Salomon who attended the press briefing along with Buzyn.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes health authorities have announced that anyone concerned by this latest outbreak of the coronavirus in their region can call 0800 100 379 to seek advice and help, especially those who suspect they may have been exposed. 

Most of the six previous cases in France appear to have been treated successfully, although all the patients are still in hospital.

One man, an 80-year-old Chinese national, is nonetheless “still in critical condition” in a Paris hospital, Salomon said.

The novel coronavirus which erupted in Wuhan, central China, in December has already infected more than 34,500 people and killed more than 700, according to the latest official figures from China.





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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.