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COVID-19

France allows drug chloroquine to be given to gravest coronavirus cases

The anti-malarial drug chloroquine can be administered in France to patients suffering from the severest forms of the coronavirus but only under strict supervision, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Monday.

France allows drug chloroquine to be given to gravest coronavirus cases
AFP

Citing a ruling adopted after a meeting of France's high public health council, Veran said the drug could not be used to treat milder cases of the illness.

Some researchers have said chloroquine shows great promise as a treatment, though scientists have agreed that more trials are needed to determine if the drug is really effective and safe.

“The high council recommends not to use this treatment… with the exception of grave cases, hospitalised, on the basis of a decision taken by doctors and under strict surveillance,” Veran told reporters.

President Donald Trump has said the US is fast-tracking chloroquine for use as a treatment but other voices have urged prudence over its effectiveness.

Experts are divided over whether the drugs are suitable though, having undergone only the briefest of clinical trials.

“We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately, and that's where the (Food and Drug Administration) has been so great,” Trump told reporters, referring to both antimalarials.

“They've gone through the approval process — it's been approved. They took it down from many, many months to immediate. So we're going to be able to make that drug available by prescription.”

“As an example, many Americans have read studies and heard media reports about this drug chloroquine, which is an anti-malarial drug. 

“It's already approved, as the president said, for the treatment of malaria as well as an arthritis condition. 

“That's a drug that the president directed us to take a closer look at, as to whether an expanded use approach to that could be done to actually see if that benefits patients.”

Chloroquine is a synthetic form of quinine, which has been used to treat malaria since the 1940s. Hydroxychloroquine shares a similar mechanism of action but is less toxic. 

French drug maker Sanofi on Wednesday said it stood ready to offer the French government millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine, sold under its brand name Plaquenil, in light of a “promising” study carried out by Didier Raoult (pictured) of the IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille.

AFP

Raoult reported this week that after treating 24 patients for six days with Plaquenil, the virus had disappeared in all but a quarter of them. The research has not yet been peer reviewed and published.

Last week Swiss laboratory Novartis offered to make available up to 130 million doses of anti-malarial drug chloroquine, which is considered a potential efficient treatment for the coronavirus.

Pharmaceutical industry executives say they expect it will take 12 to 18 months to roll out a vaccine and jointly pledge to make it available worldwide based on need.

Authorities were alarmed last week when a message circulating on the popular WhatsApp messaging service recommended people to take a dangerously high dose of anti-malaria drug chloroquine to treat COVID-19.

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The Minister of Health, Brigitte Bourguignon, said she is “asking the French to wear masks on public transport once again” during an interview with RTL on Monday, June 27th. She also recommended wearing a mask in all other enclosed crowded areas, as a “civic gesture.” However, she did not refer to the request as a government mandated obligation.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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