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How will contact tracing brigades work in France?

An ambitious nationwide programme of ‘contact tracing’ is being put in place ready for when lockdown starts to end next Monday May 11.

This involves a network of professionals who will seek to identify people with whom those infected with Covid-19 have been in close contact in recent days.

At present it does not include the controversial proposal of a special Bluetooth mobile phone app (which is still under review).

Instead two databases of contacts will be compiled from Monday, called Sydep and Contact Covid.

The aim will then be to contact those people directly to ask them to get tested and if necessary to obtain care and/or isolate themselves for a two-week period, either at home or in designated hotels.

Who will do this ‘contact tracing’?

It is expected that people’s own GPs will be in the front line of information gathering, asked to identify likely ‘contacts’ among the person’s immediate family as well as if possible others whom they have encountered in recent days without wearing a mask, whether at less than two metres’ distance for a quarter of an hour, in other circumstances at a distance of less than a metre, or involving physical contact such as a hug or kiss.

The doctor will reportedly be asked to database the names and contact details of such people.

In parallel, ‘brigades’ across the country – as referred to by the French prime minister in his recent deconfinement speech – will be tasked with contacting them and also with trying to fill in gaps where GPs were not able to successfully identify all relevant people.

The brigades will ask the contacts to undertake a free test, indicate where they can do this, and also do follow-up checks to see if the person did as requested.

These teams could be made up eg. of staff from health authorities (Cpams), from mairies or departments, or charities such as the Croix Rouge.

The government says it will be ready to mobilise up to 6,500 people from next week.

All of these people will be committed to keeping medical confidentiality regarding the data, the head of the Cnam (France’s national state health insurance body) told news channel BFMTV.

The tests will be 100% state-reimbursed, and where a person wishes to take up the option of being isolated in a room in a requisitioned hotel, the teams will also help organise this.

At the same time as this work is taking place the Agences Régionales de Santé will use the same data to monitor patterns of infection around the country to look out for new outbreaks.

The health authorities state that this whole process will be based on patients’ own declarations and a relationship of trust. There will be no police investigations.

A law will also provide a framework for the use of the data collected, which will be uniquely used for purposes of fighting the spread of Covid-19.

Cnam states that patients should also have the final say as to whether or not their name is mentioned to potential ‘contacts’ who are contacted by the brigades.

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