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17.09.2020 Europe

French president scolds health minister over Covid testing and tracing failures

By RFI
Bertrand GUAY / AFP
LISTEN SEP 17, 2020
Bertrand GUAY / AFP

Health minister Olivier Véran is to resume weekly televised briefings on the Covid-19 situation in France on Thursday, after a reported ticking-off from President Macron.

French media are reporting that at Friday's meeting with ministers Macron slapped down attempts to impose tougher restrictions to combat the virus, telling the health minister to “get back to me when you have done a better job.”

Véran had wanted to close bars and restaurants in Marseille, Bordeaux and the French Caribbean island of Guadaloupe.

But against a background of growing frustration among French people, Macron wants progress on the measures introduced so far.

France apparently conducts the third highest number of tests per week in Europe but there are long queues outside labs and waits of up to a week for results.

“A million tests a week is very nice but if the results arrive too late, what's the use?” Macron is reported to have demanded of his health minister.

More test options

On Wednesday Véran authorised the use of rapid antigen tests so that other PCR tests can be reserved for people presenting symptoms or who have had contact with those known to have the virus. Physiotherapists have now also been added to the list of those allowed to conduct tests.

The president also reportedly complained that the Covid tracing app was not working effectively. Since its launch in June, 2 million people have downloaded the app but only 200 have been notified that they have been in close contact with someone known to have the virus.

Pointing out that the Coronavirus appeared to be spreading chiefly among young people, who use smartphones, Macron apparently told ministers to find ways to make the app a more useful tool.

This as figures show 10,000 new cases detected between Tuesday and Wednesday evening as well as 2,976 Covid hospitalizations including 508 admissions to resuscitation units over the last seven days.

Public confidence waning

Macron is keen to reassure the French public. A survey on Tuesday showed nearly 50 percent of those polled felt that the government was not taking enough precautions and 62 percent do not have confidence in the government's ability to combat the epidemic, a rise of 6 points compared to opinions at the end of August.

As in other countries, the government is trying to balance health concerns with the economic and social impact of the virus.

Meanwhile, a group of leading doctors, including the husband of Macron's housing minister Emmanuelle Wargon, cautioned in Thursday's edition of Le Monde newspaper, against further restrictive measures without a clear long-term strategy.

They warn of heavy social and economic consequences and declare that it is not only impossible but also counterproductive to try to stop the virus, since it is important to build up herd immunity.

A measure of risk must be accepted, they argue, proposing that efforts be concentrated on protecting those most in danger and avoiding overload in the hospital system.

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