Mass coronavirus screening programme in Strasbourg after illegal football match

An illegal football match played in France's eastern city of Strasbourg has sparked fears the game could lead to a resurgence of the coronavirus virus in one of the worst-affected areas in the country.

Mass coronavirus screening programme in Strasbourg after illegal football match
Photo: AFP

The match, played on Sunday between teams from the city's districts of Neuhof and Hautepierre in a local stadium, attracted some 400 spectators in defiance of rules still in place to battle the virus.

France began easing strict lockdown measures a fortnight ago, but gatherings remain limited to 10 people.

The football game drew widespread condemnation and a promise of “severe sanctions” from city hall official Serge Oehler.


But on Tuesday authorities said the priority was health, not punishment, although prosecutors want to track down the organisers.

“Our number one concern is health, it isn't a trap,” said the senior local official Josiane Chevalier, calling for those who attended to be tested.

From Thursday they can go to a testing centre set up at the European Parliament to be screened anonymously, without an appointment nor prior consultation.

“We must absolutely avoid another virus hotspot in Strasbourg and protect the participants” as well as their families, said Chevalier at a video press conference.

“It's important that the participants understand that their behaviour in the next few days can save lives,” added regional health officer Adeline Jenner.

“The test will not be held against them,” she added.

In order to break the chain of transmission that could emerge from the event, Jenner said social distancing measures were essential.

Strasbourg remains in the high-alert “red zone” of domestic virus circulation. Along with Paris, eastern France has been one of the worst hit areas in the country.

So far no-one has been arrested in relation to Sunday's game, but the police are searching for those responsible. 

“The objective of the investigation isn't to identify all the spectators, but rather the organisers,” said Strasbourg's chief prosecutor Yolande Renzi, adding that someone must have opened the stadium where the match was held.

Violations of the limit on public gatherings up to 10 people can lead up to a six month prison sentence and a €7,500 fine.

Strasbourg mayor Roland Reis said no one should consider a return game between the two sides.

“If there are other events like those on Sunday, all the work done to contain the virus over the two months of lockdown will be put into question,” he said.

Before the strict lockdown was imposed in March France's football league attempted to keep playing behind closed doors, but this was abandoned after dozens of Paris Saint Germain fans turned up outside the stadium where their team was playing.

Both the country's football and rugby leagues have formally ended the 2019/2020 season and professional matches are not expected to restart until September.

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French doctors to stage more strikes in February

General practitioners in France are planning another industrial action that will see doctors' offices closed as they call for better investment in community healthcare.

French doctors to stage more strikes in February

Primary care doctors in France announced plans to strike again in February, after walkouts in December and over the Christmas-New Year holidays in early January.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, February 14th, and it comes just a few weeks ahead of the end-of-February deadline where France’s social security apparatus, Assurance Maladie, must reach an agreement to a structure for fees for GPs for the next five years.

Hospital doctors in France are largely barred from striking, but community healthcare workers such as GPs are self-employed and therefore can walk out. 

Their walk-out comes amid mass strike actions in February over the French government’s proposed pension reform. You can find updated information on pensions strikes HERE.

Previous industrial action led to widespread closures of primary care medical offices across the country. In December, strike action saw between 50 to 70 percent of doctor’s surgeries closed.

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

New concerns among GPs

According to reporting by La Depeche, in the upcoming strike in February primary care doctors will also be walking out over a new fear – the possibility of compulsory ‘on-call’ hours.

Currently, French GPs take on-call hours on a voluntary basis. Obligatory on-call time for primary care doctors was scrapped in the early 2000s after GPs mobilised against the requirement.

However, representatives from the Hospital Federation have called for it to be reinstated in order to help relieve emergency services.

Additionally, GPs are calling for Saturday shifts to considered as part of their standard working week, in order to allow for a two-day weekend.

Striking primary care doctors are more broadly calling for actions by the government and Assurance Maladie to help make the field more appealing to younger physicians entering the profession, as the country faces more medical deserts, and for working conditions to be improved.

Those walking out hope to see administrative procedures to be simplified and for the basic consultation fee – typically capped to €25 – to be doubled to €50.

In France patients pay the doctor upfront for a visit, and then a portion of the fee is reimbursed by the government via the carte vitale health card.