Covid-19 France: Should I get a Covid test before Christmas?

Should you get a Covid test if you have no symptoms or contact cases but are planning to see family or friends over Christmas? We explain.

7 December 2020
By Joanna York

Many people are hoping to celebrate with the festive season with others this year by travelling to stay with family or meeting up to share a meal. But is it safe to do so in the current health climate? And can testing help? We explain.

What kind of test can I get? 

Covid testing methods currently available in France include blood tests, PCR tests, and rapid antigen tests.

Health authority la Haute autorité de santé (HAS) has specified that PCR tests are only intended for people with Covid symptoms or who have been in contact with someone with Covid. In these instances, people should get a PCR test with in 48 hours of contact, or within four days of the first symptoms appearing.

But rapid antigen tests are more widely available and give results within 30 minutes. The HAS said they can be used for: “large-scale testing operations targeting groups in which the risk of infection is higher than in the general population".

These include people living or working in close contact with others, which puts them at risk spreading the virus rapidly and creating a Covid cluster. 

Should I get a rapid antigen test before seeing family and friends over Christmas?

Some experts have suggested that vulnerable family members such as grandparents should be separated from the rest of the family this Christmas. Dr Anne-Claude Crémieux, infectologist at Saint-Louis hospital in Paris agreed that not seeing family members would be an effective solution - but perhaps not one that people will stick to.

She told news source Le Figaro getting tested is a possible alternative for people who want to spend time with others over Christmas: “But not the day before. That would be a big mistake. The ideal solution would be to get tested one week before leaving, stay at home, and then meet with family members.”

She added that testing did not negate the need for barrier measures when spending time with others, even if tests results came back negative. “On the contrary, we should not falsely reassure ourselves,” she said. 

How reliable are rapid antigen tests? 

Rapid antigen tests are known to be less reliable than PCR tests. Dr Lionel Bernard, president of the young medical biologists union, said: “According to a study by [Paris hospital group] AP-HP, rapid antigen tests have 60% sensitivity compared to PCR tests. So out of 100 positive PCR tests, 40% will show negative results on a rapid antigen test. Those 40 people will be incorrectly considered negative.”

Rapid antigen tests are less likely to detect Covid-19 in people who are in the incubation phase of the virus. This means someone with Covid-19 could test negative one day, but then test positive two days later, when the virus has developed. 

Professeur Xavier Lescure, infection doctor at the Bichat hospital in Paris, said negative test results are “a false reassurance. We risk feeling protected and that could cause less inhibition when it comes to barrier gestures".

He added that children could be a particular risk: “It would be best to know the contacts children have had in the weeks before to judge if a result is a real negative or not. Someone could take their baby to visit their mother-in-law with a negative PRC test, but nobody knows if the child is still in the incubation phase, and if they will have symptoms or a positive test a few days later.

 

Is it worth getting a test if I do not have symptoms? 

It is not necessary to get tested before seeing family and friends over Christmas if you do not have symptoms or Covid contact cases.

But it can be a good idea, and an extra reassurance, if you plan on spending time with people who are vulnerable, such as grandparents. To be effective, tests should be done seven days in advance and be followed by a period of isolation.

It is not a good idea to rely on test results however. Ultimately, the best way to avoid transmitting the virus while spending time with others is to enforce barrier gestures including wearing masks inside, washing hands and leaving space between yourself and others. 

What else can I do to stay safe while seeing family at Christmas?

  • Discuss the how you're going to celebrate with people in advance to make sure that everyone agrees on the same rules and knows what the rules are.
  • Isolate before seeing family members and use the TousAntiCovid app to reduce your risk of being in contact with someone who has Covid-19.
  • Leave extra space between people at the dinner table, especially those who are more vulnerable to catching Covid-19. A maximum of 6 people is advised for gatherings indoors, not including children.
  • Think about serving food that is individualised, or have one person serve food rather than passing plates between guests.
  • Before and after eating, use barrier gestures such as hand-washing, mask-wearing, cleaning surfaces that might be touched by multiple people and leaving space between yourself and others.
  • Air out rooms where people are gathered by opening the windows for 10 minutes every hour.
  • Spend more time outside. Think about having an aperitif outside or going for a walk with loved ones instead of gathering together indoors.

Related stories 

Covid rules: Attendance at religious services increased

France's train and plane services to increase over Christmas

Covid-19: Study finds 10% infection rate in France

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