Industry officials cited two impending bottlenecks: a potential shortage of workers capable of conducting tests and the availability of government-approved reagents, with countries around the world rushing to procure test kits .
Mass testing is essential to France’s ability to safely exit a six-week lockout.
France will switch to aggressive doctrine on COVID-19 tests from May 11, targeting 700,000 nasal swabs per week, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.
This means that France must almost triple its current capacity in just fifteen days.
“I am not sure that this goal of 700,000 is reasonable,” François Blanchecotte, head of the federation of the Union of biologists, who represents some 4,000 laboratories, told Reuters. “A limitation will be the number of people able to test on such a scale. “
France is not the only one struggling to test more widely. Britain is on track to reach a target of 100,000 tests a day by Thursday, its health minister said this week, although recent data indicates that around 43,000 daily tests are underway.
Swab tests involve taking a sample from a person’s nasal canal or throat. A reagent is then added to determine if there is an infection.
France has authorized around forty reagents for use in COVID-19 tests, manufactured by large pharmaceutical groups such as Switzerland’s Roche and the Abbott laboratories in the United States, as well as by small and medium-sized companies.
SCRAMBLE FOR REAGENTS
Lionel Barrand, who heads the Federation of the National Syndicate of Young Medical Biologists, warned that this number may be insufficient and that laboratories are already having difficulty sourcing reagents in France and abroad.
China, where the global pandemic was born, is an important source of reagents.
“Will there be enough reagents? We are still seeing supply pressures at the national level, “said Barrand.
France had the logistics to step up testing, he said. “But it will only work if we have enough reagents and buffers. “
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said France had taken steps with international suppliers to guarantee the supply of reagents. Meanwhile, the French health industry regulator approved a new locally produced cotton swab to ease the pressure on cotton swab imports.
Countries around the world hope that blood tests to find out whether people at risk for the disease have developed antibodies that are believed to offer some immunity will also guide efforts to restart their economies.
But serological tests have so far been unreliable and questions persist about the human body’s immune memory after infection with a coronavirus.
This puts more pressure on nasal swab tests. Barrand said clarity is needed on symptoms – which include headaches, fever, dry cough and loss of taste – requiring testing.
“If everyone with a small symptom shows up, the system will collapse,” he said.
Report by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Richard and William Maclean
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