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HEALTH

Paris region braces as French PM warns of ‘extremely high’ surge of coronavirus cases in coming days

France's prime minister raised the alarm on Friday over an "extremely high" surge in coronavirus cases in the country and warned things will be "difficult" in the coming days, especially for the Paris region and northern France. Hospitals in the capital have issued a plea for help.

Paris region braces as French PM warns of 'extremely high' surge of coronavirus cases in coming days
A paramedic carries out a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance to the reception of the Emergency Room, set up in a tent, in a courtyard of the Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil, near Paris. Photo:

“We find ourselves in a crisis that will last, in a health situation that will not improve any time soon,” Edouard Philippe said after a cabinet meeting held by videoconference, as 365 deaths were reported in France in a single day.

“The situation will be difficult in the days to come,” he said.

Having started in the country's east, the epidemic is now spreading in the northernmost Hauts-de-France region, the Paris region and other areas with “an extremely high surge that puts the entire healthcare system, the entire hospital system, under enormous pressure,” Philippe said.

AFP

The daily death tolls in France have been rising sharply in the last few days – from 112 deaths on Sunday to 240 on Tuesday and 365 on Thursday. The official figures only include deaths in hospital so the real toll is likely to be higher.

Philippe warned the country must “remain extremely mobilised” in the fight against the epidemic that has now killed 1,696 people on French soil.

Philippe's warning was echoed by Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon, who also predicted that the next few days will be very difficult.

During his daily briefing on Thursday, he said:  “Now there is less contact, people are going out less and get infected less. So we hope there will be fewer people getting sick next week and fewer people going to hospital.

“This is the aim of putting a brake on the epidemic and limiting the peak and saturation of the hospitals. The next days will certainly be hard but then we all hope there will be an improvement.”

READ ALSO Which parts of France are worst affected by coronavirus?

Hospitals in towns in the east including Mulhouse and Colmar have been overwhelmed in recent days and in recent days patients have been airlifted or taken by special trains to hospitals in other parts of the country. A military field hospital was also set up.

But now the pressure is rapidly increasing in the Paris region.

Hospital chiefs in the greater Paris region say they are worried about the next few days, and have issued an urgent appeal for anyone with medical experience to come to the capital and help out.

“We will clearly need help in the Île-de-France region because what happened in the east is coming here,” Frederic Valletoux, the president of France's federation of hospitals told BFM TV.

“We will be at the limit of our capacities in 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “If we let every hospital cope by itself and let every territory that has been taken by the epidemic cope alone, then we shall he towards catastrophe,” he added.

Health authorities for the greater Paris Île-de-France region say that 1,300 of its 1,500 intensive care beds reserved for coronavirus patients already occupied.

“We are filling the space to the maximum to accommodate as many intensive care patients as possible,” said Bruno Riou, medical director at the AP-HP hospital group that serves the Paris region.

“We have not yet reached the peak of the epidemic, we will have to find solutions,” he told France Inter, suggesting evacuations may be needed to take patients from Paris to hospitals in less-affected regions.

Philippe said he would announce more details of the government's response Saturday with Health Minister Olivier Veran, in particular regarding the availability of equipment, masks and virus testing.

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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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