France smoothed testing process as virus pressure grow

PARIS – France is facing concerns over the coronovirus crisis, the government said on Friday, warning that the number of new cases was increasing rapidly and admissions to hospitals were seeing a boom.

Many residents expected new restrictions, particularly after the government’s scientific council said earlier this week that officials would have to take “tough measures”.

But officials did not announce new rules, instead reforming the country’s vast testing program – which has suffered delays in recent weeks – and urged the French to continue taking social remedial measures.

The number of new cases has recently increased in France, where by now nearly 31,000 people have died of coronovirus. The country has registered 54,000 new cases in the last seven days – less than Spain, but far more than other neighboring countries such as Italy or Germany.

On Thursday alone, there were about 10,000 newly confirmed cases, a record since the onset of the epidemic. The increase in new cases has been partly attributed to extensive testing, but the positivity rate has also increased for those tests – it was 5.4 percent this week, up from 1.5 at the end of July – meaning the virus too Picking up speed.

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said in a television address on Friday that officials were particularly concerned about hospitalization, especially the renewed increase in the number of elderly people.

“It shows there is no Maginot line,” said Mr. Castex, who was speaking after a special cabinet meeting to discuss France’s coronavirus response, referring to the national fortifications built in the 1930s. Even if the virus is still spreading to most young people, he said, it “inevitably” reaches more sensitive areas of the population.

Young people are less likely to develop severe forms of the virus-causing disease Kovid-19, which has limited the impact of the increase in cases on France’s health system so far.

But last week, the increase in the number of cases was the highest among people aged 75 years and over who according to the National Public Health Authority saw a jump of 44 percent over the previous week, noted in a recent report Was that young adults were “less systematic” in respecting social disturbances.

In his address, Mr. Castex called for renewed discipline. “For several months, we must demonstrate responsibility at all times,” he said.

But Mr Castex ruled out another nationwide lockout, saying the government was relying on local authorities to take action on a case by case basis. For example, the mayor decided this week to ban retirement and all visits to nursing homes.

Two of France’s 100 departments are now placed in the red category, Mr. Castex said, meaning that officials in each region can restrict public ceremonies or limit business hours as they see fit.

Mr. Castex cited three areas – the cities of Bordeaux and Marseille and the overseas area of ​​Guadeloupe – where the increase in cases and increased hospitalization was particularly worrying.

More than 5,000 patients are currently hospitalized for Kovid-19 in France, of which approximately 600 are in their intensive care. It is still very low at the peak of the outbreak in April, when more than 32,000 people were hospitalized due to coronavirus. But in the last week, about 300 new Kovid-19 patients were admitted every day – almost double the average number this summer.

Officials are eager to stress – and experts readily admit – that France is better prepared than it was this spring, when the first virus wave occurred. But decency is dangerous, they warn.

“We have tests and masks,” said Dominic Costagiola, an epidemiologist at Pierre’s Lewis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health. “But until the deaths increase and intensive care units are not congested, many people think it is serious to call a critical situation.”

If officials wait until this happens, Ms. Costagiola said, “it will be too late to act.”

Compared to spring, when authorities implemented a strict nationwide lockdown, France has boosted its testing capacity by more than a million tests every week, on average, up from 500,000 in August. The tests are independent, regardless of symptoms or potential contacts, and do not require medical prescriptions.

But laboratories are struggling to keep up. In Paris, it sometimes takes up to a week to get results – although the Minister of Health, Olivier Veran, has said that in 80 percent of the cases the results were available within 36 hours.

Lionel Burrand, president of the Union of Young Medical Biologists, said that his laboratory near Strasbourg in eastern France experienced such a surge that he did not have enough machines, reagents, and staff to quickly process test results.

“The strategy is bad because it is not sufficiently focused,” Mr. Barrand said. “It is better to have 500,000 well-targeted trials with quick results than 1 million trials with an eight-day delay.”

Mr Castex acknowledged Friday that the increase in testing was “excellent news”, while it sometimes led to “longer wait times”, and added that the labs now set aside specific time slots for symptomatic patients or their close contacts. Will set.

He also said that the government would appoint 2,000 contact trainers and that segregation would be more strictly enforced for those who tested positive, although he did not provide details. Mr Castex also announced that the isolation period would be reduced from 14 to seven days, with recent studies showing the risk of contamination dropped sharply after the eighth day of infection.

Jean-François Delphresi, an immunologist who heads the government’s scientific council, said France has to “live with the virus” to strike a delicate balance.

“During the summer we all needed to blow off some steam,” Mr. Delphursi told Europe 1 Radio on Friday. Now, he said, “We need to pull ourselves back a little bit.”

Consistent Mehet contributed to reporting.

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