MAP: Where in France has the fewest coronavirus cases?

Paris and eastern France have, so far, born the brunt of the coronavirus epidemic, but which areas of the country have seen the fewest seriously ill people?

MAP: Where in France has the fewest coronavirus cases?
Patients being transferred out of Paris to less-affected areas.Photo: AFP

Regularly updated data from Santé Publique France counts coronavirus cases by region and every French region now has cases numbering in the hundreds. 

But French regions are pretty big – Nouvelle-Aquitaine is roughly the same size as Scotland – so there are wide variations on each département within the region.

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

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And data released on Friday shows that there are 11 mainland France départements that currently have fewer than three coronavirus patients in intensive care per 100,000 of the population.

The number of cases in total is likely to be much higher, but at present France is not doing widespread testing, so only the patients ill enough to be hospitalised tend to appear on official statistics.

The départements of Eure, Charente, Haute-Corse, Lozère, Dordogne, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Côtes-d'Armor, Lot-et-Garonne, Ariège, Gers and Deux-Sèvres all have three or less patients in intensive care per 100,000 of the population.

The overseas French départements of Guyana, La Réunion, and Mayotte also fall into this category.

Over the course of the epidemic, 10 of the 11 regions have had fewer than five intensive care patients per 100,000 of the population, while the Brittany département of Cote d'Amor has had 12.

The départements also have very low death rates – less than two people per 100,000, while the national average is 12 per 100,000.

Lozère along with Cantal, French Guiana and La Réunion have so far recorded no coronavirus deaths.

The majority of the least affected départements are rural areas with a low population density.

“The epidemiological dynamics are by nature different because there is a lower concentration of people”, Mircea T. Sofonea, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases at the University of Montpellier, told Le Parisien.
“The fact that Paris has a high density and concentrates a lot of travel may explain the large number of cases. If there had been a big festival in one of the [least affected] départments, it could have accelerated the arrival of the epidemic.”
The deépartements also had relatively few cases of coronavirus cases when the national lockdown rules were brought in, dramatically slowing the spread.
The fact that cases are very unevenly distributed around France has been a lifeline to struggling hospitals in Paris and eastern France, with hundreds of seriously ill patients evacuated to areas that have fewer cases.

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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.