Mass Covid-19 testing to be rolled out in Paris region to find ‘possible dormant clusters’

The French government has announced that it will roll out widespread testing of up to 1.3 million people in the greater Paris region, in an attempt to identify possible coronavirus clusters.

Mass Covid-19 testing to be rolled out in Paris region to find 'possible dormant clusters'
Photo: AFP

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.

READ ALSO How France is trying to prevent a coronavirus resurgence in its poorest suburbs

Véran added: “The peak of cases in March and April is behind us but we are not done with the virus yet.” 

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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.