France aiming for 200,000 Covid-19 tests per week

France is doing around 150,000 tests per week for Covid-19 and is aiming to reach 200,000 soon, the health minister has said, with an estimated 10% of the population thought to already be immune to the virus.

Published Last updated

Health minister Olivier Véran told radio network RTL this morning (Tuesday March 14): “We are doing around 150,000, and above, tests per week right now. We are in the process of going towards 200,000 tests per week.

“Germany, which is the country that is testing the most, is [testing at] a little over 300,000 tests per week. We [in France] are well over the numbers that we ourselves had announced.”

The minister had previously said that France was aiming to “reach 50,000 tests per day by the end of April”.

Currently, only polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are permitted, on prescription (as opposed to blood tests, which are currently being trialled).

The majority of people with symptoms who do not require hospitalisation are no longer being systematically tested, but the aim is to eventually be able to test everyone with symptoms, Mr Véran said.

Read more: Covid-19 testing in France: Your FAQs

The minister said that current data models suggest that around 10% of the population may already be immune - the equivalent of six million people.

He said: “We have made the choice - and we are the only country to do it - to give all the information, including when this information is incomplete. Tests are a good example of this.

“The site of [healthcare body] Santé Publique France publishes the number of daily tests done in hospitals and in town [labs]. But if you read closely, the town test numbers come from three major labs, but there are many more labs [available].”

Mr Véran continued: “The objective is to be able to test, test, test. Today, in the most vulnerable elderly care homes, hospitalised patients, healthcare workers; and tomorrow, across the entire country. [We want] to be capable of systematically testing all of the people who have symptoms and believe they are ill.”

On the subject of people who may be asymptomatic carriers, Mr Véran said it would be “unthinkable” to consider testing every single one of the 60 million-plus people in the country.

He said that the aim instead would be to at least test symptomatic people - and their close family members - and isolate them from the community, to contain the virus from spreading further.

He added that tests would be done in as many places as possible, including hospitals, town labs, “drive through” testing sites, mobile testing units, and pharmacies. Hotels could even be requisitioned to be used as testing sites.

The figures come as President Macron announces that deconfinement measures will start from May 11.

Read more: Macron: May 11 is start of deconfinement in France

Mr Véran has previously said that widespread, national testing of millions of people would be necessary after confinement ends.

This will especially apply to blood tests (as opposed to PCR tests).

Blood tests look for antibodies to the virus, and not the actual virus itself, meaning that they allow testers to check if patients have had the virus even if they have no symptoms, or are now cured.

This means that blood tests can not only help to diagnose patients in the later stages of the illness, but also show the extent of the virus’ real spread among the population.

It is estimated that as many as 80% of people with the virus show no symptoms.

Read more: France trials new Covid-19 blood test as labs mobilise

Stay informed:
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