Testing has proved a problem for France throughout the pandemic. First, not enough tests were available, then as a mass testing programme was rolled out with huge delays and some people waited up to 10 days for their results.
However health minister Olivier Véran in a press conference on Thursday had some good news to deliver.
Since late August France has been testing more than 1 million people a week, and now 91 percent of people get their results within 48 hours.
The weekly testing numbers now stand at 1.3 million, through a combination of walk-in or drive-in centres and appointment-only testing laboratories.
And Véran said this could improve further in the weeks to come with the introduction of a new antigen test.
#COVID19 | Les tests antigéniques, qui nous permettent d'avoir un résultat entre 10 et 30 minutes ont déjà commencé à être déployés sur l'ensemble du territoire et le seront plus largement dans les prochaines semaines. pic.twitter.com/1tWS07c3H7
— Olivier Véran (@olivierveran) October 15, 2020
The antigen test, partly developed in France in partnership with the World Health Organisation, is a nasal swab test that can deliver results as you wait – between 10 and 15 minutes – rather than having to be sent to a laboratory.
The tests are slightly less accurate than the PCR nasal swab that is used at present, but can be useful in situations of mass testing where a quick turnaround is needed.
Véran said that France had a pending order of 5 million tests and they will be widely available “in the coming weeks” but had already started to be used in some areas.
He said they were not intended to replace the PCR tests, but could be used alongside them in certain situations, for example when testing new arrivals at the airport.
In an attempt to reduce the waiting time for results, France has issued guidelines on who should be tested, saying that healthcare workers, people with symptoms, contact cases and those in vulnerable groups should take priority.
People do not need a prescription to get a test, but several large cities including Paris have introduced 'priority' walk-in centres, where people who not fall into the priority groups can be turned away.
The French government has also announced a relaunch of its StopCovid tracing app, which has been downloaded by only a tiny percentage of the population.
Emmanuel Macron, in his live TV broadcast on Wednesday night, urged people to download the new version.
He did not – contrary to the claims of British Health Secretary Matt Hancock – praise the UK's Covid-19 testing programme, but said that many more people in the UK and Germany had downloaded their country's respective contact tracing app.