‘Worrying signs’ of Covid-19 resurgence in Paris, says French health minister

France's health minister has warned that there are small but worrying signs of a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the Paris region.

'Worrying signs' of Covid-19 resurgence in Paris, says French health minister

Paris and its surrounding suburbs was among the worst affected parts of France during the epidemic, so health experts have been anxiously watching the numbers in the area.

Health minister Olivier Véran, in an interview with France Inter on Thursday morning, said there were some signs that cases are climbing again.

READ ALSO Why have Paris' northern suburbs had such a high coronavirus death rate?

“There are indicators such as the resumption of calls to SOS Médecins, to the SAMU [ambulance service] and the number of hospital admissions,” he said.

While stressing that the signs of the virus resurgence were at present weak, he called on all French people to “remain particularly vigilant and active against the virus”.

In the greater Paris Île-de-France region demand for tests is high, with 1.5 million prescriptions filed for Covid tests, so the minister announced that he is allowing technicians to begin taking swabs from patients in order to speed the process.

He added: “There are a large number of Île-de-France residents who want to go on holiday and who want to be tested before they leave, which means that there is a massive influx of people who have been wanting to access laboratories for the past few days.”

He added that people will also have the opportunity to be tested while away from home if they develop symptoms.

The government already recommends that people wear masks in enclosed public spaces and that is set to become mandatory in the coming days.

READ ALSO When and where will masks be compulsory in France?

In the latest official data, released on Wednesday, France had seen 133 new coronavirus patients hospitalised in 24 hours, and 17 new admissions to intensive care.

This was down from a high of 4,281 people hospitalised in one day in April.

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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.