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France hits 700,000 tests - but rentrée ‘relaunch’ delayed

France has reached its aim to complete 700,000 Covid-19 tests per week, the government has announced more than three months after setting the target, as the rentrée “relaunch” plan is delayed by more than a week.

Health minister Olivier Véran confirmed yesterday (August 23) that the country was now completing 700,000 Covid-19 tests per week, and could raise the number to one million tests if necessary.

The update comes three months after Mr Véran first announced that the country was aiming for that number, on May 11, as deconfinement began.

He told newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD): “We have just passed our objective of 700,000 tests undertaken each week, notably 725,000, which represents more than 1% of the French population. Today, France is doing more tests than Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.”

The minister added: “We can do a million tests per week if we need to.”

Official figures from health body Santé Publique France, which are always published with a slight delay compared to real time, have not yet confirmed Mr Véran’s 725,000 figure. In the most recent update on August 18, SPF showed that the number of tests was on the rise, at 628,600 per week.

Backlogs and delays

Mr Véran acknowledged that there had been “a backlog effect” for some tests in some areas, due to a sudden rise in people going on holiday, and seeking to be tested as a result. Industry professionals have also blamed the backlog on the sharp rise in people getting tested in smaller town medical labs, after health authorities sent test reminders and vouchers to “entire cities”.

But the minister added that despite this, most people “at the beginning of August, were obtaining their result in less than 24 hours, which isn’t bad”.

To ease delays, Mr Véran said that he had authorised healthcare students, nurses and emergency paramedics to conduct tests, to add to the numbers of personnel who are able to help.

However he warned that further backlogs might be seen at the end of the month, as people return from August holidays.

Latest Covid figures in France

The test numbers come as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in France, with 4,897 new cases confirmed in the 24 hours up to 14.00 on Sunday August 23, according to SPF. This was the third time in the week (including Thursday and Friday) that more than 4,000 new cases were recorded.

In total, 4,709 people are in hospital due to Covid-19-related causes, a drop since Monday last week (4,925). The number of people in intensive care rose to 383, a rise of three people since the previous day.

One more death was recorded, bringing the total number of deaths in France to 30,513.

Six departments in mainland France are now on “high vulnerability” due to a spike in cases: Bouches-du-Rhône (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), Hérault (Occitanie), Sarthe (Pays de la Loire), Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne (Ile de France). The overseas department of French Guiana is also on alert.

But the alert level in the Loiret (Val de Loire), which had been on “high”, has since been downgraded to “moderate”, bringing the number of departments on this medium level of alert to 31.

Relaunch plan delayed

The updates come as the government confirms that the €100 billion "relaunch" plan, which had been set to begin tomorrow (Tuesday August 25) is now set to begin “in the first week of September”.

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal announced the change on Saturday. He said that the plan “was ready”, but would now be presented “the day after a rentrée [back to school / start of the new year after summer holidays] for which good organisational conditions must be assured”.

Some MPs have criticised the government’s delay. Eric Woerth of Les Républicains (LR), said: “Looks like we need to relaunch the relaunch.”

Fabien Di Filippo, LR secretary general, added: “Every day lost diminishes the efficiency of the colossal sums [of money] involved. You have to ask if this postponement is for personal convenience, if it is linked to the health crisis, or if the government intends to strengthen its recovery plan [in the meantime], which I hope it will.”

But the government denied that the plan had been delayed for negative reasons.

In newspaper the JDD, the Elysée stated that the delay was not “a sign that the plan is not ready”, nor a sign of “more worry over the health situation”, but simply a decision to “do things in order, so that the rentrée takes place confidently and that everyone is aware of the new measures”.

Health Minister Mr Véran said that it was necessary to “prioritise Covid before the new school year and return to work”, and “ensure that all the necessary rules and protocols are defined and put in place, so that the start of the new school year can take place in the best possible conditions".

This will allow the government to get “clear” on what is "necessary for the relaunch".

To this end, the last week of August is now set to include preparations for mandatory mask-wearing in businesses, collèges [middle schools] and lycées [high schools], and ensure that everyone knows the new rules.

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