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Explained: How to use home Covid tests on sale in France

Covid self-tests will become available in pharmacies and possibly supermarkets  this week. We explain what you need to know 

17 March 2021
French pharmacy. Explained: New home Covid tests on sale in France, how to use themThe home-use Covid tests will be available in pharmacies and may also be sold in supermarkets
By Joanna York

Update March 20: The self-tests are not yet on sale despite the health director's claim. Read more about it here. 

Covid self-tests that can be done at home will go on sale this week health director Professor Jérôme Salomon said on Sunday, March 14.

On March 16, Health authority La Haute autorité de santé (HAS) approved the tests - which are already in use in the UK, Austria, Germany and Portugal - for use in France.

We look at where they will be available and when to use them.

Where can I get a Covid self-test?

Covid self-tests will be available in pharmacies, and Professor Salomon said they may also be sold in supermarkets.

Can everyone use them?

Tests can be used by anyone aged over 15 who does not have Covid symptoms.

There is currently no data to show how effective the tests are on people aged under 15.

People who do have Covid symptoms, even mild ones, should contact their GP who will refer them for a rapid antigen test and, if necessary, a PCR test. 

When should I use a Covid self-test?

Authorities cannot enforce when people use Covid self-tests, but they have been recommended for use in two situations.

Firstly, for people who want to check their health status before seeing family and friends or attending a social gathering.

In this instance, the test should be taken the same day as the gathering or, at most, within the previous 24 hours.

Secondly, self-tests could also be used in cases where regular, targeted testing is required as an alternative to rapid antigen tests, for example in schools and universities.

Professor Salomon said: “The tests can be used as a reassurance, and we can take them often.”

Do I need a prescription?

No, you do not need a prescription to get a Covid self-test.

How much will they cost?

As the tests have been approved by the HAS, they are completely reimbursed by social security.

This means that people who want a self-test kit can show their carte Vitale in a pharmacy and receive one for free - the same process currently in place for rapid antigen tests.

In cases where tests cannot be reimbursed, due to not having a carte Vitale for example, they will cost less than €10 each.

Although market prices are still being worked out, Dominique Schelcher, president of French supermarket chain Système U has said he would aim to sell tests for €1 each if they were to be sold in Système U stores.

Read more: French supermarket boss calls for sale of home Covid tests

How do I do a Covid self-test?

The self-tests are a kind of antigen test, similar to those currently used in pharmacies.

But there is a difference is the way the two test samples are taken. 

The self-test includes a cotton bud that is shorter than those used for taking deep test samples. This means that self-tests are less intrusive and painful than other testing options.

To take the self-test you insert the cotton bud 3-4cm inside your nose, rub it against the inside walls of the nostrils, and then dip the cotton bud in a solution. 

You then pour two drops of the solution on to a sensitised strip. 

After 20-30 minutes the strip will show either a positive or negative result, similar to a pregnancy test.

How accurate are they?

Covid self-tests have at least 80% sensitivity, as this is the minimal limit for all tests approved for use in France.

But sensitivity can vary from brand to brand, and no data is currently available on exactly how accurate each test is.

The HAS said more research is needed to see how the tests perform in “real life conditions”, when members of the public are using them at home.

Results of HAS research are expected at the end of March, at which point self-tests might be approved for use by 10-15-year-olds.

What do I do if I test positive?

If you test positive you will need to inform potential contact cases and isolate.

But there is currently no formal method for doing so.  

Professor Salomon said: “The question is how we start the ‘test-alert-protect’ process so that the infected person receives follow-up care and to make sure we are following the Assurance maladie contract tracing procedure. 

“If contacts are not warned, it’s a real problem.”

However, some self-tests have associated phone apps which are synced with the Assurance maladie. 

This means that people who test positive, and inform the app of this result, would enter into the national contact tracing system.

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