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HEALTH

France identifies 150 coronavirus clusters, many in health centres and hospitals

France has identified 150 coronavirus clusters, many of them in health centres, officials have reported.

France identifies 150 coronavirus clusters, many in health centres and hospitals
Photo: AFP

Since France began to ease its strict nationwide lockdown on May 11th, health authorities have focused their efforts on a 'test and trace' strategy to identify early new outbreaks of the illness.

The latest data from Santé Publique France shows that up to June 3rd 150 Covid-19 clusters have been identified – 142 in mainland France and eight in its overseas territories.

READ ALSO How France's coronavirus test and trace programme works

A cluster is defined by the health body as at least three confirmed or probable cases within a period of seven days occurring in the same community or in people who had participated in the same event or gathering.

Of the 150 clusters, 66 percent have five or more cases.

Health bodies have previously said that reports of clusters are proof that the test and trace strategy is working and outbreaks are being identified early and prevented from spreading further.

On Friday the president of the government's advisory Scientific Council said the test and trace programme should be enough to avoid another nationwide lockdown.

Jean-François Delfraissy, immunology specialist and president of the advisory Scientific Council. Photo: AFP

Jean-François Delfraissy told French newspaper Le Parisien: “Since the release of the lockdown, we have sufficient means to identify the outbreaks of infection.

“That's what we didn't do in February, let's face it! That was Germany's strategy. We could have had the same evolution of the epidemic. But there was the great evangelical rally in Mulhouse, which spread the virus throughout the country, and there was a lack of tests.

“At the beginning of March, we were doing about 4,000 tests a day, whereas the Germans were already at about 70,000. Now we have caught up and are at the same level as them, at last!”  

As the Scientific Council released its seventh report, he said that the country would not return to a second nationwide lockdown, even if there is a second wave in the autumn, although there could be localised restrictions in the event of large clusters or outbreaks.

He added: “I am firmly convinced that if it starts up again, it will start up again in the Paris region.” 

Of the 150 clusters identified so far the largest group – 27 percent – have been in health establishments such as hospitals and health centres.

People in social accommodation accounted for 17 percent of clusters and workplaces also accounted for 17 percent.

The other groups where clusters were identified were institutions for the disabled (8 percent), vulnerable communities such as travellers and migrants (6 percent), family homes and extended families (6 percent), schools, universities and prisons (3 percent) and social gatherings and crèches (1 percent). There have been no clusters linked to public transport so far. 

As well as the test and trace programme, France has launched a coronavirus tracing app that is intended to supplement the programme by tracking casual contacts such as fellow travellers on public transport or customers in a café. Use of the app is voluntary and so far around 1 million people have downloaded it.

 

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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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