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How new supermarket disinfection cabins in France work

As more supermarkets across France install ‘disinfection portals’ at their entrance, we answer questions about where they are, and if they really work

Many supermarkets across France are starting to install “intelligent disinfection cabins” or “tunnels” that promise to disinfect shoppers as they enter. Where are they, and are they effective? We explain.

What are the ‘tunnels’?

They are similar to metal detector “doorways” that you see at airport security, but they are intended to disinfect shoppers as they enter the store, to fight against the spread of Covid-19.

How do they work?

The process takes a few seconds. The tunnels scan your face to make sure you are wearing a mask, and hand sanitiser gel is also available. The cabin takes your temperature with an infrared thermometer on the palm of your hand.

It then sprays a disinfectant solution and uses ultraviolet rays to disinfect further.

Paul-Antoine Lanfranchi, director of Corse Chimie Industrie, a company that is selling the cabins in Corsica, told news source France 3 Corse Viastella that the cabins work “by ultrasound, ultraviolet light and misting of a water-based isodised solution”.

He said: “It is not failsafe but it plays a role [in limiting the virus spread].”

Where does the idea come from?

These portals have been used for around seven years already in Asia, and similar machines have been used in schools and universities in Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. They have also been seen previously in Turkey, Morocco, Russia, Northern Ireland (see the video below), and Belgium. 

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin even installed one in his residence in a bid to stop visitors bringing Covid-19 into the site.

What is used in the mist and machines?

The solution is usually a mix of chlorine (heavily-diluted bleach), or an iodine derivative, and the effectiveness depends on the concentration of the solution.

UV lights are generally considered to be effective against viruses - but too-short an exposure time limits its effectiveness, while too-long of an exposure can be dangerous.

Where are they in France?

They first appeared in Isère in May, before being used at a supermarket in Plérin, Brittany, at the end of July.

Since then they have been installed in supermarkets, hypermarkets and even some shops and restaurants in towns including:

  • Aups, Var
  • Monastier-sur-Gazeille, Haute-Loire
  • Narbonne, Occitanie
  • Ajaccio, Corse-du-Sud, Corsica
  • Pertuis, Vaucluse
  • Nice, Alpes-Maritimes

The hypermarket in Pertuis bought “a complete kit”, including UV lamps and a portal that counts the number of people in the store at any one time, costing €12,000, from a business in Valbonne, Alpes-Maritimes.


Are they likely to spread further in France?

The market is growing. 

Sevan Jourbajian, head of a business in Isère, claims that theirs is the only “certified” company making the machines in France, although there are other developers in Lille and Toulouse, he said.

The company told France 3 that since May 22, it has been certified to produce machines “to the necessary norms”.

More companies have popped up in Tourcoing and Valenciennes, in the north of the country, and portable doorways have also become more popular. They are designed to be used at temporary events, and were installed at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival.

Two companies have also started in the Alpes-Maritimes: Saniboxx in Valbonne, and Axiome in Mouans-Sartoux.

Are the machines really effective?

The cabins are unlikely to eliminate 100% of all bacteria, but they have been proven to be effective in lab tests, and their manufacturers claim that they may make a difference to the spread.

Eric Peltier, head of the company Saniboxx, which has provided cabins to the Intermarché in Aups, in the Var department, told news source LCI that the machines use “a dry, electrostatic mist that attracts elements in suspension in the air” and the “ozone and UV rays have an oxidising power on germs and viruses, which leads to their break down”.

But he admitted that the machines were likely not 100% effective given the number of variables possible in a real-life public space, saying: “[They have been tested in] lab conditions, which included a very specific type of clothing, with no wind. In reality, real-life conditions are much more complex.”

Health authority la Direction générale de la Santé warned: “Asymptomatic people can spread the virus, even after having passed through the machine.”

Infectious diseases specialists say that even after using one of the machines, hygiene rules still apply, and that it is paramount to “rub your hands with 70% alcohol gel” and to “not go shopping if you are infected”.

Dr Olivier Bouchaud, of the infectious and tropical diseases unit at Avicenne in Bobigny, Seine-Saint-Denis, said: “For objects such as trollies, it could be interesting [effective]. But for people, I am less sure. How can a simple mist reach a virus that is in the back of your neck, in pockets of a coat, everywhere that hands can go, wherever the virus might be hiding?

“Unless you are soaked in a bath or you have clothes that are soaked, one person cannot be entirely disinfected.”

Dr Bouchaud said: “It is more of a gimmick to reassure the most anxious, but it has no adverse effects or risks if used properly.” But he warned that “people might feel protected and make less of an effort, once they have passed through the frame”.

He recommends that the machines be monitored, so that someone with a temperature is denied access.

This information is adapted and translated from this article on France 3.

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