France to end free Covid tests for all in October

The French prime minister has confirmed that Covid tests will no longer be free for all residents of France from the middle of October.

France to end free Covid tests for all in October
Testing outside the Angers football ground. Photo: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

PM Jean Castex, in an interview with Les Echos newspaper, confirmed the date of October 15th when ‘convenience tests’ will have to be paid for.

After that date only tests done for medical reasons – people with symptoms or contact cases – will be free. Unvaccinated people will need a prescription to obtain a free test, vaccinated people will not need a prescription.

Castex told Les Echos: “The tests will continue to be reimbursed for medical reasons, either without a prescription for those already vaccinated, or with a prescription for others. In concrete terms, if you have a fever or symptoms corresponding to Covid-19, your test will still be free.”

The Health Ministry later clarified: “The idea is to encourage the vaccinated population to remain vigilant and to go and be tested in case of symptoms.”

The Ministry also clarified that pre-departure travel tests for fully vaccinated residents of France will remain free. These are less common since they are not required when travelling within the EU and from October 4th will not be required for trips to the UK, but are still applicable for some countries.

READ ALSO How to get a Covid test in France

The tests will remain free in all circumstances for under 18s and widespread testing in schools will continue.

Antigen tests will remain available on a walk-in basis at pharmacies.

The main aim of the new policy is to discourage unvaccinated people from using regular tests to access the health passport, since they will now have to pay, and get vaccinated instead.

“It is no longer legitimate to pay for convenience tests to excess at the expense of taxpayers,” added Castex.

Tests are capped at €29 for an antigen test or €49 for a PCR test, the same price as tests for tourists, who have been charged since July.

Testing in France has been free in all circumstances for residents of France since the beginning of the pandemic, and before the vaccination rollout began people were encouraged to take a test if they they intended to travel or visit vulnerable or elderly people.

In total France spent €2.2 billion on testing in 2020 – widespread testing for the general public began in the summer – and is projected to spend €4.9 billion in 2021.

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Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

French President Emmanuel Macron will get a taste of public resistance to his second-term reform agenda this week during the first nationwide strike called since his re-election in April.

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

The 44-year-old head of state has pledged to push ahead with raising the retirement age having backed away from the explosive issue during his first five years in power.

But having lost his parliamentary majority in June, the pro-business centrist faces severe difficulties passing legislation, while galloping inflation is souring the national mood.

Despite warnings from allies about the risk of failure, Macron has tasked his government with hiking the retirement age to 64 or 65 from 62 currently, with changes to start taking effect next year.

“I’m not pre-empting what the government and the parliament will do, but I’m convinced it’s a necessity,” Macron told the BFM news channel last Thursday.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, the former investment banker argues that raising the retirement age and getting more people into jobs are the only ways the state can raise revenue without
increasing taxes.

On Thursday, France’s far-left CGT union, backed by left-wing political parties, has organised a national day of strikes, the opening shot in what is expected to be a months-long tussle.

Though the protests were originally planned to demand wage increases, they are now intended to signal broad opposition to the government’s plans.

“We’re against the raising of the retirement age,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, told the LCI broadcaster last week. “The government’s arguments don’t stack up.”   


Public opinion towards pension reform and the strikes is likely to be decisive in determining whether Macron succeeds with a reform he called off in 2020 in the face of protests and Covid-19.

An opinion poll last week from the Odoxa group found that 55 percent of respondents did not want the reform and 67 percent said they were ready to support protests against it.

But a separate survey from the Elabe group gave a more nuanced picture. It also found that only a minority, 21 percent, wanted the retirement age increased, but a total of 56 percent thought the current system no longer worked and 60 percent thought it was financially unsustainable.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to work for longer, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they are not going to work for longer,” a minister close to Macron told AFP last week on condition of anonymity.

“Maybe I’m mistaken but I’m not sure that the turnout will be as large as the unions and LFI are hoping for,” he said, referring to the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) political party that has backed the strikes.

The second decisive factor will be how the government introduces the reform in parliament where Macron’s allies are around 40 seats short of a majority.

Some favour slipping it into a social security budget bill that will be voted on in October — a stealthy move that will be denounced as under-handed by critics.

Others think more time should be taken for consultations with trade unions and opposition parties, even though they have all ruled out working with the government.

Macron prefers the quicker option, one senior MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In both scenarios, observers expect the government to resort to a controversial constitutional mechanism called “article 49.3” that allows the executive to ram legislation through the national assembly without a vote.

If opposition parties unite against the measure or call a no-confidence motion in the government, they could trigger new elections.

The reform was “ballsy but dangerous,” one ally told French media last week.

Macron II

Success with the pension reform and separate changes to the unemployment benefits system will help the president re-launch his image as a reformer, experts say.

Since winning a historic second term in April, he has been caught up in the Ukraine war crisis amid reports the parliamentary election setback in June left him disoriented and even depressed.

“We’ve slightly lost the narrative of Macronism,” political scientist Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris, told AFP recently.

The challenge was giving the second term a “direction” and showing “how it builds on the results of the first”, he said.

“The essence of Macronism, which does not have a long history, is the leader and the programme,” added Benjamin Morel from Paris II university.

Since being elected as France’s youngest-ever president in 2017, Macron has made overhauling social security and workplace regulation part of his political DNA.

“Emmanuel Macron can’t easily back away from a reform because burying a reform, it’s like disavowing himself,” Morel said.