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HEALTH

France’s takes new measures to avoid an Italian-style coronavirus outbreak

France set up a new phone line to deal with coronavirus concerns from the public on Thursday while the government met with opposition leaders to thrash out a strategy in the event of an outbreak similar to that seen in neighbouring Italy.

France's takes new measures to avoid an Italian-style coronavirus outbreak
The French government has announced a long series of measures to counter a widespread coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP

With neighbouring Italy having confirmed more than 370 cases of the coronavirus, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe convened an emergency meeting on Thursday morning to prepare for a similar scenario in France.

Where are we at?

So far, France has had 18 confirmed coronavirus cases in total. Six of these were discovered within 24 hours.

Two people have died of the virus. One of them, a French teacher, died on Wednesday morning. The man had been transferred from his hometown Creil to the Pitié Salpêtrière  hospital in Paris.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Pitié Salpêtrière on Thursday morning, before leaving for Naples, Italy, for a crisis meeting with the Italian government.

The case has been particularly worrying to French health authorities as the 60-year-old had not been to any of the coronavirus infected zones. An investigation into how he was infected has been launched.

The other death was an 80-year-old Chinese tourist who died on February 14th.

Eleven people have been released from the hospital. 

A 55-year-old man, one of the six new cases, is still in “serious condition” in Amiens.

What precautions is the government is taking?

French authorities have been stepping up preparations ever since the major outbreak of coronavirus over the border in Italy was reported over the weekend.

One of the latest measures the government has taken is setting up a “green number” that people can call for any non-medical coronavirus-related questions. The line will be open all week from 8am until 9pm. The number is 0 800 130 000.

The operators will not be able to answer any questions of medical nature. On its website, the government advised anyone experiencing any signs of an infection “in the 14 days after returning from China, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, South Korea, Iran or the Italian regions affected by the virus” to call number 15 (the French emergency ambulance number).

Other precautionary measures include preparing 70 extra hospitals to receive coronavirus patients and tripling the resources for the country's testing programme.

The government has also placed orders for tens of millions of protective masks for health workers.

READ ALSO These are the extra coronavirus precautions France is taking

Some of the supporters at a football game on Wednesday evening in Lyon were wearing protective masks. Photo: AFP

Nice carnival canceled

Some events have been canceled to avoid large gatherings of people.

Nice canceled its annual carnival on Saturday. Menton, a city on the Italian border, made the same decision for its Lemon Festival.

In Paris a major trade event which usually attracts thousands of people from around the world has been cancelled because of coronavirus fears.

Self-isolation

Anyone who has recently returned from Italy or China has been told to self-isolate for two weeks in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

On its website, the French government urged those returning from the listed places to “avoid all non-essential outings”, giving as examples “big gatherings, restaurants, the cinema”, for two weeks after their return and to keep their children home from daycare or school. 

They were also told to monitor their temperatures twice a day and watch for symptoms of respiratory infection (coughing or breathing difficulties).

READ ALSO: What are the rules around coronavirus self-isolating and quarantine in France?

Will not close border

The French government has remained adamant that it will not close down the border with Italy, shrugging off criticism from Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right party Rassemblement National.

However closing down borders has been deemed an inefficient mesure by several health authorities. The Director of Global Health Institute at the University of Geneva, Antoine Flahault, said it would be “inefficient and illusory.”

“It doesn't make much sense,” said Jérôme Salomon, director general of the French health authority, earlier this week.

“Not to mention that you can travel by land, sea and air, or go through Italy and Austria.”

The people who have died so far have generally been elderly or with underlying health conditions and the World Health Organisation says that 80 percent of people who get the virus will experience only mild symptoms.

French vocab

Fièvre – fever

Maux de tête – headache

Courbatures – aches

Toux – cough

Difficultés respiratoires – breathing difficulties

Un rhume – a cold

La grippe – the flu

Coronavirus – coronavirus

SAMU – the French ambulance service, or service d'aide médicale urgente, to give them their full name

 

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HEALTH

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. 

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