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Covid-19 France: Should I get a PCR or antigen test?

The government has introduced a new priority system to manage the number of tests being carried out each week. We explain the system and what type of test to have in each situation

Reader question: I saw that there are new rapid antigen tests, but that they are less reliable. Is there an occasion where I should get these tests, or is it always better to get the usual PCR tests? 

There are now two types of coronavirus tests available in France that can show if a person is infected with the virus. 

One is the PCR test that has been commonly used throughout the summer and the second is the new rapid antigen tests that can deliver results in 15 minutes, although with less reliability. 

Covid-19: 6 facts about France’s rapid antigen tests

Over two million PCR tests are now being carried out, figures from Santé Publique France show. To help deal with demand, the government announced a new system whereby people with symptoms, contact cases and healthcare workers are prioritised for tests.

The government is also rolling out more antigen tests. 

By the end of November, 50% of pharmacies should be able to carry out these tests. 

Covid-19 antigen tests available soon in French pharmacies

So, when should you get a PCR test or an antigen test, or when should you not get tested at all?

You have symptoms

If you have symptoms of Covid-19 - cough, fever, headache, etc. - you should immediately contact your doctor and they will direct you. You can have a PCR test, or, if you are under 65 and healthy, you can choose to get a rapid antigen test. 

You are a contact case

If you are a contact case - someone you have been in contact with for more than 15 minutes without a mask - there are two options. 

If you live with that person, you should immediately go and get a PCR tests. Antigen tests are not suitable for this situation. 

If you do not live with them, you should wait seven days from your last contact with the person and then get a PCR test. 

Travel

If you are planning to travel abroad, it may be necessary to do a Covid test before going or before returning. You can find out more information about this on the government website here (in English). 

In addition, passengers hoping to fly to and from Paris airports Roissy-CDG and Orly have been required to take antigenic Covid-19 tests from October 26, in a bid to curtail the spread of the virus.

Antigenic tests will be done on-site, for passengers either departing or arriving.

They provide results within 10-15 minutes. 

Paris airports to introduce antigenic Covid-19 tests

Medical reasons

Anyone having an operation may be asked to take a Covid test before. This could be a PCR test or antigen test, depending on the hospital policy. 

Work

Your employer may ask you to take a test. There is no legal obligation to get one. This could be a PCR or antigen test, depending on company policy. 

Assisting the elderly and vulnerable

If you are going to be helping an elderly or vulnerable relative or friend, you may wish to get tested. This is allowed, although you will not be considered a priority for the test. It is up to you if you want to get a PCR or antigen test.

A PCR test is more reliable but it could take a few days or even longer to get the results. The antigen tests should give a result in under one hour. 

For curiosity

If you just wanted to get tested for your own interest, you can. However, you are not a priority and in order to help laboratories deal with the huge amount of tests being processed, it is best not to get tested for this reason. 

Read more:

Coronavirus tests in France: 24 common questions

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