Queues at a test center fuel criticism of France’s COVID strategy

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People line up to enter a lab to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, France, August 4, 2020. Photo taken August 4, 2020. REUTERS / Benoit Tessier reuters_tickers

This content was published on August 5, 2020 – 15:09

PARIS (Reuters) – The French government was criticized on Wednesday for its policy of free-to-all testing for COVID-19 as queues escaped from some testing centers in Paris and at sites across the country in in the midst of an outbreak of infections.

A leading lab federation said a blunt July 25 decree making testing free and without a prescription was pressuring many employees at a time when many staff were going on vacation. Political opponents ridiculed a policy in disarray.

“There’s no point in testing someone. You must be targeted, ”epidemiologist Didier Pittet, who heads a government-appointed task force to monitor handling of COVID-19, told Europe 1 radio.

France, like many of its European neighbors, is witnessing a proliferation of new coronavirus clusters.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care increased on Tuesday for the second day in a row, reversing a 16-week downward trend. The disease has killed more than 30,000 people in France.

France is currently testing some 576,000 people per week, a spokesperson for the health ministry told Reuters on Wednesday, up from 200,000 when President Emmanuel Macron began to ease one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.

The strategy is working, Health Minister Olivier Veran said over the weekend. “The virus is no longer stalking us, we are stalking it,” he told Le Parisien.

The ministry spokesman acknowledged “localized problems” but insisted that France had chosen the right strategy.

But Lionel Barrand, who heads the federation of the Syndicat National des Jeunes Biologistes, said the open testing strategy was like looking for a needle in a haystack and turning the labs on.

“The government threw sand in our wheels. He sent a lot of people to labs without warning, ”Barrand told Reuters.

Frustrated by the reluctance of some laboratories to invest in manpower and the operational changes needed to perform the tests, the government has considered requisitioning some of them, a government official said.

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun; Additional reporting by Emilie Delwarde; Editing by Richard Lough and Giles Elgood)

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