The tests use a nasal swab to detect virus proteins and can return results within 30 minutes.
In a statement, national health body la Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) has said it is in favour of the tests being given to people who already have Covid-19 symptoms.
The statement, released on September 25, states that the HAS is “in favour of their deployment and reimbursement [by social security] as a diagnostic for symptomatic patients”.
#Communiqué | Tests antigéniques dits "rapides" : la HAS se prononce #COVID19— Haute Autorité de santé (@HAS_sante) September 25, 2020
✅ Patients symptomatiques : tests performants pour le diagnostic
⏸ Patients asymptomatiques : en attente des résultats des études en cours
Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told news source France Inter that five million of the tests would be available in France “from October”. An exact date has not yet been confirmed by the government or health authorities.
Rapid tests to help ease burden on French system
In France 1.3 million Covid-19 tests are currently being done each week. However, there have been criticisms over long wait times for test results, with some people waiting up to 12 days after a test to find out if they are infected with the virus.
It is hoped that rapid antigen tests will help speed up the testing process in France, and will be used as an initial screening measure.
The HAS says: “These tests can be done in medical laboratories, but can also be done outside laboratories (in pharmacies, doctors’ offices, etc.)”
Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than other testing methods currently used in France, which is one of the main reasons that their use is recommended only on symptomatic patients. However, the HAS writes: “the loss in sensitivity can be compensated for by their impact on waiting times – results being given on the day of testing - and, as such, on the circulation on the virus throughout the population.”
The HAS has also specified minimum sensitivity levels for tests to be used in France. It said that tests must have a sensitivity rate of 80% or higher, to reduce the possibility of false negatives; and a clinical specificity rate of 99% to ensure that the virus being detected is Covid-19. This is in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation.
The HAS says that rapid antigen tests should be taken within seven days of the first Covid symptoms appearing.
Tests not for people without symptoms – yet
The HAS has not approved use of rapid antigen tests for people without symptoms, including people travelling abroad; or for collective contact tracing in school groups, businesses or in elderly care homes.
Studies are still being undertaken to assess whether rapid antigen tests are an effective testing method for these groups.
The HAS is expected to give an opinion next week on whether rapid antigen tests could also be made available to people without symptoms.
In the meantime, PCR and blood tests will still be available to those with and without symptoms in France - with new PCR tests that use throat swabs, instead of nasal swabs - available from now on.