Coronavirus testing in France: Who gets tested under the new system?

France this week is rapidly stepping up its testing programme for coronavirus - so who gets tested under the new system?

Coronavirus testing in France: Who gets tested under the new system?
France aims to test 20,000 people a day starting from this week.. Photo: AFP

Health minister Olivier Véran has promised two million coronavirus tests in France in April after criticism that the country's testing process was too narrow.

The World Health Organisation's advice to all countries is 'test, test, test' but France has until now only been testing certain groups of patients.

This means that the number of confirmed cases in France – 12,000 on Sunday – is largely meaningless and estimates of the true number vary from 100,000 to 200,000 people.

Find out the latest on the situation in France here

Around 80 percent of people who get the virus have only mild symptoms and there are people who get no symptoms at all but who can still pass it on.

This is why recorded death rates from each country should be treated with caution – every country has a different policy of both testing and recording cases.

READ ALSO Why does France's death rate differ so much to other countries?

So what is the situation in France with testing?

France has had two distinct phases to its testing – in the early stages of the outbreak, when all cases were linked to foreign travel, France operated a policy of targeted testing on anyone who had travelled to an outbreak zone and anyone who had contact with a known case in France.

But once the virus moved to the stage of being transmitted on French soil, contact testing was no longer useful.

France then moved to testing

  • Healthcare professionals
  • Those who have severe symptoms (somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of patients)
  • Frail people (for example the elderly or people with serious underlying health conditions) who have symptoms
  • People in a group setting such as a care home who have symptoms. In this scenario the first three cases will be tested, in order to establish whether quarantine measures need to be put in place.

From this week, the target is to test 20,000 people a day – up from 9,000 people last week but still a long way short of Germany, which is testing 70,000 people a day and aims to test 200,000 a day by the end of April. 

What has changed in France?

In addition to the extra testing capacity, the health minister has also authorised a wider range of laboratories to perform the tests, in order that results are delivered as quickly as possible.

The recommendation is that through the month France will eventually move to testing all suspected coronavirus patients.

However it is still only possible to get a test with a prescription – there are no drive-through testing centres of the type seen in South Korea.

And what next?

Testing is expected to gradually increase throughout the month, but still concentrated on those with serious symptoms.

France has said that its testing model is focused on providing healthcare for the sickest and most at-risk patients.

However when lockdown measures are loosened up, mass testing will become more important in order to ensure that people with either mild or no symptoms are not spreading the virus as the population begins to move more widely again.

The French government's eventual target for this is testing 100,000 people a day – but that target is currently set for the end of June.

Medical advice

Anyone who thinks they have the virus and is seriously ill should call the French ambulance number – 15 – tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus and follow the instructions given.

Anyone who believes they have the virus but does not need an ambulance should call their usual doctor or set up an online appointment.

For anyone with questions about the coronavirus who is not in need of urgent medical help, there is a freephone advice number – 0800 130 000 – that they can call.

If you have been diagnosed, or think you have the virus, you should self isolate for 14 days.

READ ALSO France to extend online medical appointments


Member comments

  1. And where does one get a mask?
    Both the pharmacies AND Amazon are sold out.
    Candidly, if I were to find a mask, wear it … I’d be more concerned about being mugged for it than catching the virus?!

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.