French biologists' union: Reserve testing for priority cases

Testing should not be used as a safety net by people who have not taken care with barrier gestures, says a member of a biologists' union. 

15 September 2020
A doctor with a coronavirus swab. France is now carrying out over 1 million coronavirus tests per weekFrance is now carrying out over 1 million coronavirus tests per week
By Thomas Brent

France has reached its target of testing over 1 million people per week for coronavirus, but this has also led to long queues at testing centres and laboratory staff being overworked. 

The Syndicat des Jeunes Biologistes Médicaux (SJBM), a prominent biologists' union in France, has called for more targeted testing rather than the government’s strategy of mass testing.  

“Yes, it is necessary to test extensively, but it is necessary to target symptomatic people, contact cases and asymptomatic people at risk, i.e. those returning from a trip to a country where the epidemic is raging. 

“A number of French people are discouraged from going to get tested because they cannot get an appointment quickly, even though they fall under the category of people who are priorities to be tested,” the union wrote in a press release. 

Kim Nguyen, a member of SJBM, told The Connexion France has reached a point where it cannot handle the number of tests being carried out. 

“It’s a good idea to test everyone because then it allows us to highlight the people who are asymptomatic. The problem is, when you surpass your analytical capacity,  you clog the system, meaning you can not even highlight the emergence of clusters [of coronavirus],” he said. 

He said that people are now having to wait up to four or five days to get test results back. 

Health Minister Olivier Véran has acknowledged the delays, but said that 80% of test results are being returned within 36 hours at most, and that testing - coupled with immediate self-isolation and treatment for those who test positive - is a key way to stop the virus from spreading.

Mr Nguyen said he thinks that the government’s drive to test over a million people has now become a political act, “[Mass testing] is a legitimate strategy from a medical point of view, as long as the analytical capacities are not overwhelmed, because it allows us to test asymptomatic patients and to have a better representation of the prevalence of this illness.” 

He added that as testing capacities are overwhelmed, the government should resort back to medical advice, which, he said, is testing priority cases. 

“I am not in government, but there was the German model where they tested three-times more and had three-times fewer deaths. So perhaps the government today does not want to leave itself open to this criticism,” he said. 

On Friday (September 11), Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that France would make special testing slots available for priority cases

But Mr Nguyen said this was unworkable, as it was declarative and subjective. 

“If you have two queues of people waiting to be tested and you are in the non-priority queue and it is not moving, and you see the priority queue is moving because those people have declared they have symptoms, well, then it’s sure everyone ‘will have a fever’, he said. 

Mr Nguyen said that while there were valid arguments for testing everyone, for now it has to be an option reserved for people considered priorities, “People with symptoms, people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive - this means spending over 15 minutes with them without masks - healthcare staff and people working in retirement homes.”

“If you do not fall into one of these categories, you are better to continue respecting barrier gestures and to wear a mask,” he said. 

He advised against people using testing as a "parachute option" (safety net), if they had not respected barrier gestures and were consequently worried about having the virus. 

Read more about testing in France: 

Covid-19: Is France doing too many tests?

French Covid test with 30 minute result time approved

Long waits for covid tests cause tension in France

France targets 1 million covid tests: what to do if positive

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