France rolls out saliva tests to detect Covid-19 in schools and universities

Saliva tests for Covid are from Monday being rolled out in French schools, replacing the uncomfortable nasal swab.

France rolls out saliva tests to detect Covid-19 in schools and universities
Testing in schools will switch from nasal swabs to saliva tests. Photo: AFP

The test is considered slightly less accurate than the nasal swab, but it is easier and more pleasant to use, and is being rolled out in schools, followed by universities, to ramp up mass testing in educational settings.

It will not be used on contact cases or people with symptoms.

The test involves spitting a small amount of saliva into a tube, which is then analysed in a laboratory.

Unlike the nasal-swab antigen tests, the saliva test does not give on-the-spot results but has to be sent to a laboratory to be analysed.

Mass testing of  pupils and staff has been promoted by the French government as a way of keeping schools open but the virus under control, but many pupils found the nasal swab tests uncomfortable or distressing, so the new saliva test is being rolled out first in schools.

It will then be extended to universities, which are currently running around half of classes with in-person teaching.

“We are going to multiply collective screening operations, notably in schools (…), but also in universities,” Health Minister Olivier Véran announced, adding that the saliva test was “more comfortable” for children.

READ ALSO How France is trialling the use of Covid-sniffing dogs

The saliva test was last week given the green light for use from France's medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé, which recommended it for use in asymptomatic people.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hill of the Gustave Roussy institute told France Info: “The salivary test is a little less effective but it is so much more practical and we can have such a better coverage rate that it is absolutely worth it.

“The problem is that the virus circulates with asymptomatic people: we can't find them, neither can their contact cases, so we let the virus circulate very widely on the sly. The young population – in principle less prone to the serious symptoms of the disease – is largely concerned by this.”
France has previously produced a saliva test – known as EasyCov – but this has been judged not sensitive enough for mass testing and screening programmes. It has been licensed for use on people with symptoms, on whom nasal swabs cannot be used.
The government hopes that increased screening in schools will keep the UK variant of the virus, thought to be more infectious among children, under control.
The target is to have been 200,000 and 300,000 tests per week in schools by mid February.

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Sick patients in France lacking GP to be contacted before summer, minister says

The French minister of health promised that chronically ill patients who aren't registered with a doctor will be contacted by the summer.

Sick patients in France lacking GP to be contacted before summer, minister says

François Braun, France’s Health Minister, said on Monday that all chronically ill patients without a general practitioner will be contacted before the month of June with “concrete solutions”.

There is a general shortage of medécins généraliste (GPs or family doctors) in France, with some areas classed as ‘medical deserts’ where people find it almost impossible to register with a doctor.

The health minister said that people without access to primary care doctors are “deprived of a regular follow-up” and that this is “no longer acceptable” for those with chronic illnesses. These groups will be contacted via Assurance Maladie before the summer, he added. 

Braun’s statements came a few weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to healthcare workers outlining the ways he is seeking to overhaul the health system in the country.

READ MORE: How Macron intends to revive France’s ailing health system in 6 months

In his speech, the president promised that the “600,000 patients in France who suffer from a chronic disease would be offered a primary care doctor – or at least a ‘reference team’ – by the end of the year.”

Macron also discussed plans establish a “Conseil national de la refondation (CNR – or National Council for Reconstruction)” to build a “roadmap” for solutions in the fight against medical deserts.

Approximately six million French people are estimated to lack a primary care doctor, and 600,000 of those people suffer from long-term diseases, according to Franceinfo.

READ MORE: What to do if you live in one of France’s ‘medical deserts’

This issue is aggravated by the fact that almost a third of French people live in medical deserts – or geographical zones where healthcare providers and general practitioners are severely lacking compared to the rest of the country. Generally, this refers to healthcare in the community such as GPs or family doctors, dentists or community nurses, rather than hospitals.

Medical desertification mainly affects rural areas with an ageing population – though they’re also developing in some towns and cities (including some Paris suburbs) as retiring doctors are not replaced and younger medics establish themselves in more dynamic zones, both in terms of economy and activities.