Five French doctors die from coronavirus

A total of five doctors have now died in France after contracting the coronavirus, the government confirmed on Monday, as concern grows over the welfare of medical practitioners on the frontline.

Five French doctors die from coronavirus
Photo: AFP
Four more doctors have died after contracting the coronavirus in France, officials said on Monday, a day after the country reported the first death of a doctor treating COVID-19 patients.
“We will never forget them,” France's Health Minister Oliver Véran said on Monday evening.
France reported its first death of a hospital doctor from coronavirus on Sunday, an accident and emergency practitioner who worked at a hospital in Compiègne, north of Paris.
Véran said that as far as he knew the man – who died on Saturday – was the “first hospital doctor to be hit” by the coronavirus.
But on Monday local authorities said that two more doctors – a 66-year-old gynaecologist-obstetrician and 60-year-old general practitioner, also died. 

The three doctors worked in the départements of Oise, Haut-Rhin and Moselle in the eastern area of France that was the worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

A general doctor aged 70 died in the hospital in the eastern city of Colmar, also in eastern France, with another doctor aged 68 died in Trevenans just to the south, medical sources and local officials said. 

With a controversy raging about the lack of protective masks for medical staff in France, Véran said most of the medical staff who will contract the virus will be infected outside of their work.

“This week, 20 million masks will be delivered to hospitals and Ephads in France,” Véran said.

The minister said that although protection for frontline staff was “absolutely indispensable”, there had been several cases of doctors and nurses falling ill when they were equipped with masks.

The virus has so far killed 860 people in France with a further 8,675 in hospital, of whom 2,000 are in a serious condition in intensive care.

Hospitals in Mulhouse and Colmar are reported to be a “breaking point” due to the sheer number of cases and a military hospital has set up in Mulhouse, while some patients have been airlifted to some of the less-affected areas of France, or over the border to Germany.

READ ALSO Military hospitals and coronavirus – how France's health service is battling coronavirus

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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.