Coronavirus tests in France: 5 common questions

We answer some of the most asked questions about France’s updated coronavirus rules, such as the reduced self-isolation period and who is considered a priority to be tested. 

16 September 2020
A scientist looks through a microscope. More than 1 million coronavirus tests are being carried out in France every weekMore than 1 million coronavirus tests are being carried out in France every week
By Connexion journalist

Who are the priority people who should get tested?

France has been rapidly increasing the number of coronavirus tests in recent months, today reaching over 1 million per week. 

This has led to a backlog in processing the tests, long queues at certain testing centres and stressful working conditions for medical personnel. 

Due to this, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that new dedicated testing networks for priority patients would be established. Further details on how this will work have yet to be announced. 

These would be reserved for people who:

  1. Present symptoms of the virus (fever, coughing, muscle aches, headaches etc).
  2. Have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, i.e. having spent over 15 minutes in close proximity to them without wearing a mask.
  3. Work in healthcare
  4. Work at elderly or retirement homes

The current government line is still to test as many people as possible. This logic has been disputed by a biologists’ union, which claims that because testing capacities are overwhelmed, tests should be reserved only for priority cases.  

What do I do if I have symptoms of coronavirus?

If you have symptoms of the virus you should immediately self-isolate. 

If you find you have problems breathing, you should phone the emergency services, phone number 15 (or 114 for people with hearing difficulties). The emergency services will take care of you from there. 

If you do not have breathing difficulties, you should phone your doctor to inform them.

If you do not have a doctor in France, you can find one on the website Doctolib. There, you can search for médecin généraliste and type in your location. You will see a list of doctors in your area. If you click on their profile and scroll down you will see what languages they speak, should you prefer an English-speaking doctor. This website is easy to use but does not have all the doctors in France on it. For a more comprehensive list, you can search the country's health directory here

After you have phoned your doctor, you should get tested for coronavirus - information on where and how can be found below. 

If the test is negative you must wait until you no longer have symptoms and then you can stop self-isolating. 

If the symptoms persist, your doctor can prescribe you a new test and prolong the period of self-isolation. 

If the test is positive you must remain in self-isolation for a minimum of seven days, and then 48 hours more after symptoms of the virus have disappeared. The French government changed this ruling, previously people had to remain in isolation for 14 days. You can read about why it was changed here

For a further breakdown on what happens when you phone your doctor, read our article here

What do I do if I have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus?

This is broken down into two categories: if you live with the person, or if you have been in contact with the person. 

If you live with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus you should take the following steps:

  1. Self-isolate
  2. Carry out a PCR test as soon and as safely as possible
  3. Continue to isolate until seven days after the person with coronavirus has recovered
  4. Do another PCR test
  5. If the test is positive, you must follow the steps in the above segment, if it is negative you can stop self-isolating. 

If you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus but do not live with them, you should take the following steps:

  1. Self-isolate for seven days
  2. After one week, take a PCR test
  3. If the test is positive, follow the steps in the above segment, if it is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

The question of how long it takes to receive test results remains unclear. Health minister Olivier Véran said that 80% of test results are being returned within 36 hours at most. 

Others have taken to social media to say that it is taking up to five days. 

Twitter user Xavier Tytelman wrote, “I just took a PCR test for a trip planned for tomorrow. As the rapid reaction tests are out of stock, the results are only available in three to five days. Since all countries require a test within 72 hours, no travel is now possible. Fun for professionals. 

Where and how can I get tested?

There are over 3,400 specially designated testing centres in mainland France where people can be checked for free for Covid-19, without the need for a prescription - see more details here.

In addition mobile testing units have been set up at various key locations around the country. Details on these should be available from your local mairie. 

For the mobile testing units, you only need one piece of identification. You do not need to be a resident in France, have health insurance or proof of address. 

Is there an alternative to PCR nose swab tests?

Saliva tests for coronavirus should be rolled out across France from the end of September. The president of France’s Conseil Scientifique, which advises the government on coronavirus matters, said they would make testing quicker and easier than the current swab method.

He said they would mean it was possible to develop a 'simpler strategy' to deal with outbreaks of the illness. 

More information here

For more information in general about coronavirus in France, you can phone a free coronavirus hotline on 0 800 130 000. However, operators may not speak English. 

Read more about coronavirus in France:

French biologists' union: Reserve testing for priority cases

Long waits for covid tests cause tension in France

Why France has reduced quarantine to 7 days

Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now