At present France's 'test and trace' system offers tests to anyone who believes they have symptoms and anyone who has been in contact with people who test positive for Covid-19.
The tests are generally arranged through GPs, but so far there has been little widespread testing of people with no symptoms – with the exception of some drop-in testing centres in deprived areas.
But with increasing evidence that people with very mild symptoms or none at all can spread the virus, the government wants to roll out more widespread testing – starting in the Île-de-France region around Paris, which has been worst hit by the virus.
Pop-up testing centres have been set up in some of the more deprived areas of Paris. Photo: AFP
Health minister Olivier Véran announced the new scheme on Thursday, telling French newspaper Le Monde that “a very large-scale campaign aimed at all inhabitants will target areas close to identified clusters where (…) there is a viral reservoir, with asymptomatic people, who may unknowingly transmit the virus.”
He added: “Nearly 1.3 million people living in thirty communes in the Île-de-France region will receive Health Insurance 'vouchers' offering them the opportunity to undergo a virological test in any public or private laboratory, even if they have no symptoms.
“The objective is to identify possible dormant clusters.”
Anyone eligible will be contacted through the assurance maladie State healthcare system.
If it is successful, the scheme could then be extended to other parts of France.
Four regions (Île-de-France, Grand-Est, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Hauts-de-France) account for 74 percent of patients in intensive care because of Covid-19 and Paris and its suburbs have been particularly badly hit.
With its densely populated areas and pockets of deprivation, the Paris region has already been identified as a likely location for further outbreaks during a possible 'second wave' in the autumn.
The regional health authority for Île-de-France has been running testing sessions at drop-in centres aimed at people who are not registered with a GP and find it difficult to access healthcare, but the new scheme will broaden out the testing offer.