Health minister Olivier Véran signed a decree to this effect on Saturday (July 25). Anyone can now get a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test without a prescription, without having symptoms or having to justify a reason for their test, and have it reimbursed.
A PCR test is done using a long cotton-bud-like swab, and tests if the patient has the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19) at the time of testing. This is in contrast to blood tests, which test for antibodies weeks after the first sign of infection.
In an interview with newspaper Le Parisien, Mr Véran said: “After May 11 [end of confinement], we were doing a little more than 200,000 tests per week. Now, we are able to say that we are approaching 500,000 tests per week, with a positive test level of 1 to 1.5%.
“The virus is no longer tracking us, we are tracking it. As we are testing more, we are finding more ill people.”
He added: “I understand that people want a change and need to breathe. But the virus does not take holidays. We have not yet won the war [against the virus],” and reminded people to continue to respect physical distancing and remain cautious in the face of a new rise in infections - which has outpaced the rise in testing.
A clear rise in cases
On Thursday and Friday (July 23 and 24), more than 1,000 new cases were reported - putting infections at a similar level to that seen in May.
He said: “We cannot speak of a second wave, but one thing is certain, which is that we have seen a clear rise in positive cases, whereas [before] it had dropped for 13 [consecutive] weeks.”
The minister added that the new wave of cases appeared to include many young, asymptomatic people.
He said: “We are seeing that patients are young; younger than the last wave. The level of asymptomatics is very high. That is especially the case in Ile-de-France, where we are seeing a lot of young people who have become infected without knowing how.
“Doubtlessly, older and more vulnerable people have continued to keep their distance, whereas younger people have been less careful. That is what we are seeing when it comes to parties and family gatherings [that are] at the origin of these clusters.”
Avoiding a reconfinement?
Mr Véran’s comments come as Prime Minister Jean Castex warned that he was aiming “to avoid, above all, a general reconfinement”, as this would be economically and socially “catastrophic”, he said in an interview with newspaper Nice Matin.
He said: “We know now what [confinement] does: Such a measure breaks the spread of the virus, yes, but on an economic and social level, it is catastrophic, including for the mental health of many of our citizens.
“Our priority is always prevention…[and] even though cases appear to be rising again, the number of positive tests remain low compared to countries around us. Hospitalisations are at a controlled level.”
The Prime Minister said that he could envisage “very localised reconfinement” in certain areas, to which “we will adapt”.
He added: “To fight against this pandemic, there are some very simple things that we can do and not do, which we call barrier gestures, until the day that a vaccine is found.”
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France