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HEALTH

Coronavirus: France moves into ‘new stage of epidemic’ as number of cases rises to 100

France has now had 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus - 88 of which have been diagnosed since Tuesday. The country's health minister said the country was now in "stage 2" of the coronavirus epidemic.

Coronavirus: France moves into 'new stage of epidemic' as number of cases rises to 100
Photo: AFP

France's new health minister Olivier Véran has confirmed that the number of confirmed cases in France now stands at 100, all but 12 of which have been diagnosed since the major outbreak began in Italy over the weekend.

Echoing the words of President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, he said: “We are preparing for an epidemic.”

READ ALSO Paris marathon axed as government bans all events of more than 5,000 people

He added: “We are now moving to stage two. The virus is circulating in our country and we must stop its spread.”

Existing hygiene advice – regular handwashing, using disposable tissues, covering you mouth with you elbow when you cough – remains in place, but the minister added: “I now recommend people avoid shaking hands.”

France has launched a special hotline number so worried members of the public can seek help and advice that is manned 24/7. The number is 0800 130 000. The emergency number 15 should only be used if the a member of the public believes they are suffering from a medical condition linked to coronavirus.

READ ALSO Coronavirus: The everyday precautions you can take to stay safe in France

Jérome Salomon, left, and health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: AFP

Of the 88 new cases announced this week, nine people are in a serious condition, including two who had both recently returned from Egypt as part of a tour group.

The official total of 100 includes 11 who fully recovered from the virus earlier this month and 2 fatalities, one a 60-year-old teacher from northern France the other an elderly Chinese tourist.

Jérôme Salomon, Director General of health, said that the new cases were all close associates or family members of the cases diagnosed earlier in the week.

The biggest cluster is in the Oise département, the home of the 60-year-old technology teacher who died of the virus on Tuesday, and Haute-Savoie in eastern France.

There are also confirmed cases in Lyon, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Nice and the Seine-Saint-Denis département on the outskirts of Paris.

French authorities have been expecting a surge in the number of cases ever since the outbreak in Italy, but are concerned that the teacher who died had not travelled to an infected zone and had no obvious contact with anyone who had.

A hunt has now been launched to try and identify the 'patient zero'.


Emmanuel Macron and France's new health minister Olivier Véran visiting staff at Pitié Salpêtrère hospital. Photo: AFP

“We are facing a crisis, an epidemic that is coming,” said French president Emmanuel Macron while visiting staff at the La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, where the first French person carrying the new coronavirus died on Tuesday.

“We know that we're only at the beginning… we're going to try with all our caretakers to make the right decisions,” Macron said alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.

“You had a case here… I know this affected many of your teams,” he said, pledging to address the crisis “truthfully” so that measures can be taken “calmly”.

 

 

READ ALSO Coronavirus: What are the rules for self isolating and quarantine in France

MAP Which Italian regions are worst affected by coronavirus?

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

French ministers held an emergency meeting on Sunday night to discuss the situation in Italy, and began stepping up preparations in France, including preparing 70 extra hospitals to receive coronavirus patients and tripling the resources for the country's testing programme.

However authorities said they would not be closing the border with Italy.

“It doesn't make much sense,” said Jérôme Salomon. “Not to mention that you can travel by land, sea and air, or go through Italy and Austria.”

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. 

Employees and students were encouraged to work from home “in so far as possible” and to avoid meetings, elevators and cafeterias.

Schools are currently asking all pupils recently returned from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea or Italy to stay at home for a fortnight.

Italy is a popular holiday destination for French families during the February holidays, and many schools also run trips there over the break.

Many schools have reported issuing advice to pupils to stay at home, and there are expected to be more on Monday when the new term starts for schools in zone B – Aix-Marseille and Nice.

France was the first country in Europe to confirm cases of coronavirus on January 24th, although then health minister Agnès Buzyn said at the time she believed that was simply because France had developed a better testing protocol than many other countries.

France initially saw five cases diagnosed in late January, all people who had recently travelled from China, where the outbreak began.

A French health worker who had treated a patient then became the sixth person to be infected.

The next six cases were all centred on a ski resort in the French Alps where a British man who had recently returned from Asia passed the virus on to a group of people who had been staying in the same ski chalet.

Apart from the elderly Chinese tourist all 11 recovered.

Until Tuesday, there had been no new cases for over a fortnight, but as more cases were confirmed in Italy, then Spain, Austria and Switzerland, French authorities prepared themselves again.

The World Health Organisation reports that of the people who contract the virus, the vast majority will make a full recovery and only five percent of cases are considered critical.

The people who have died so far have generally been elderly or with underlying health conditions.

France has in fact been officially in an epidemic state for normal seasonal flu since the start of February as thousands have fallen sick. Since the start of the flu season in November, 530 people have been admitted to intensive care and 44 people have died.

In France authorities are asking people who think they may have coronavirus symptoms not to go to hospital or their doctor's surgery.

 

 

READ ALSO Coronavirus in France: What you need to know

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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