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COVID-19 TESTS

France no longer requires PCR tests to confirm Covid diagnosis

If you test positive for Covid via an antigen or self-test, you no longer need to confirm the result with a PCR test in order to benefit from paid time off work.

Members of the public queue for a Covid test in France.
Members of the public queue for a Covid test in France. There is no longer any need for to take a PCR test to confirm positive antigen tests or self tests. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Previously, people who tested positive for Covid in France via an antigen test or self-test kit had to confirm the result with a PCR test. 

PCR tests are more accurate and results obtained through these tests are integrated into SI-DEP, one of the French government’s digital tools for monitoring the pandemic. PCR results are also useful to health authorities as they allow scientists to determine which variants of the virus are most prevalent among the population. 

By taking a PCR test to confirm positive results, patients were able to access services from the Assurance maladie (the French public health system) like obtaining an arrêt de travail giving you time off work and in some cases, to find somewhere for you to self-isolate. PCR test results were also used to help with contact tracing, sending alerts to people you may have come into contact with via the TousAntiCovid app. 

Record Covid cases in France have seen enormous queues outside pharmacies and medical laboratories, with people seeking to confirm positive results with a PCR. 

But doing so is no longer necessary. 

A memo sent from the Health Ministry to medical professionals on January 2nd reads: “Considering the intense viral spread, it is no longer necessary to confirm the result of a TAG (antigen test) with an RT-PCR (PCR test)”. 

As far as confirming home-test kit results is concerned: “the result should be confirmed with an antigen or PCR test”. 

Various professionals confirmed these rules to Le Parisien

“It has been a week that we are not asking people who tested positive via an antigen test to do a PCR,” said Philippe Besset, head of the French Federation of Pharmaceutical Syndicates. 

“The instruction was given to us by the Direction générale de la Santé since Monday, to avoid the testing system being overwhelmed,” said the President of the National Syndicate of Biologists, François Blanchecotte.

The French Health Ministry have confirmed to The Local that people who test positive with an antigen test can still obtain an arrêt de travail to give them paid time off work. To do this, you must apply through the Améli (public health insurance) website. You will need a French social security number. 

You cannot however get an arrêt de travail with a positive self-test result. 

The certificate covers you for seven days off work, but can be extended to another seven days if you are still awaiting test results at the end of the period. This also applies to parents who cannot work because their child’s school or class is closed due to Covid. For full details of claiming the arrêt in this way, click here.

Antigen tests can also be uploaded to the Tous Anti Covid app in order to notify people you have been in contact with.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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