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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Lawmakers in the French parliament voted on Thursday to add the right to abortion to the constitution in response to recent changes in the United States and Poland.

French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Members of parliament from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and the ruling centrist coalition agreed on Thursday on the wording of the new clause, which was then put to a larger vote.

“The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntarily end a pregnancy,” reads the proposed constitutional addition to article 66.

It was passed in the Assemblée nationale with a large majority – 337 to 32 against, but still needs to be approved in the Senate.    

“It’s a big step… but it’s just the first step,” said centrist MP Sacha Houlie from Macron’s Renaissance party.

The initiative was prompted by the US Supreme Court’s explosive decision this year to overturn the nationwide right to termination procedures for Americans.

In Europe, the conservative government of Poland has also heavily restricted abortion rights.

LFI lawmaker Mathilde Panot said the move was necessary in France to “protect ourselves against a regression”.   

In a speech to parliament, she cited the late French writer and women’s rights activist Simone de Beauvoir.

“We only need a political, economic or religious crisis for the rights of women to come into question,” she said.

The agreement was a rare instance of cooperation between the hard-left LFI and the centrist allies of President Emmanuel Macron – who no longer have an overall majority in the National Assembly.

A previous attempt to inscribe the right to abortion as well as contraception into the constitution, with different wording, was rejected by the conservative-dominated Senate in October.

Many conservative and Catholic politicians have announced their misgivings, seeing it as unnecessary given the legal protections already in place.

“It appears totally misplaced to open a debate which, although it exists in the United States, does not exist in France,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement this week.

“No political group is thinking about questioning access to abortions,” she said.

Parliamentary records initially showed Le Pen voting in favour of the change on Thursday, but these were later corrected to reveal she was not there for the vote. Her spokesman said this was due to a medical issue. MPs from her party and the right-wing Les Républicains abstained.

Abortion was legalised in France in 1974 in a law championed by health minister Simone Veil, a women’s rights icon granted the rare honour of burial at the Pantheon by Macron upon her death in 2018.