Covid: Should France mass-test the population?

Published by Laurent P. · Photos by Laurent P. · Published on 1 December 2020 at 15h28
As several regions are implementing mass-testing to fight against Covid over their territory starting this December, there is still a topic causing division among epidemiologists and politicians: should France mass-test the population?

A question dividing scientists, epidemiologists and politicians… To effectively fight against Covid, shall France mass-test the population. Starting with politicians, this was not the strategy to adopt, but there could be a change. And for good reason. The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region has announced to start on December 16, 2020 a massive screen-test campaign on the territory for the inhabitants. Same thing is to take place in Lille-Roubaix, heading that way, as recalled by LCI.

This seems obvious for epidemiologist and public health professor at Lille University Hospital Philippe Amouyel: “The best way to test is to test the entire people as much as possible. Ideal, before December 24th” he explains to LCI. He goes on: “Anyway, it could truly lower the number of cases circulating. For instance, if we find only two asymptomatic cases in three, it is already much better than letting three asymptomatic cases run around the population”.

A view shared by epidemiologist and biostatistician Catherine Hill back in October on LCI as well: “We let the virus circulate, we confined without testing or testing really little […] what we shall do is try and stop the virus from circulating and to do so, we have to test and isolate very quickly positive cases as many of them are completely asymptomatic, we have to held mass-testing of the population. As long as we do not do so, the virus circulates and this is how shambles start”.

As for the government, this was no solution a few weeks ago. The ground – tacitly confessed – is: not enough tests, and a limited stock of reagent. A situation that caused the biologist union trade to sound the alarm on September 9 in a release, as reported by L'Usine Nouvelle, after the government asked the French to be tested: “Excluding a few groups or laboratories that managed and have been able to pile up enough reagent stock, others are under pressure because of longer delivery times. Today, it takes around four weeks”, the SDB explained. They went on: “Some reagent suppliers cannot follow and many laboratories are experiencing shortage of reagent and therefore their PCR Covid activity is jeopardized.”

Another logistical problem being the lack of machine to enable to assess samples and creating always-longer deadlines to get results. “In some cases, it takes several days to get tested. These periods are incompatible with new contaminations” the trade union explained before adding: “as there are more and more needs, we shall not miss the most at-risk situations: people with symptoms, contact cases, professionals working with people potentially vulnerable. We must guarantee them a quick access to tests”.

The issuance of antigenic tests changed things: “We still remember, back in September, the never-ending queues in front of laboratories, waiting times to get results, five, six days perhaps more, but what doctors are saying is that it has changed because we have antigenic tests. We can do without the very, very long PCR test. This is about political willPhilippe Amouyel tells LCI.

Please note that some countries have already taken the plunge such as Slovakia that have tested two thirds of the country in three weekends. All in all, 38,000 positive cases have been reported, naming 1% of the population, then a decrease in case toll after testing and quarantining. Same thing in Austria, that has planned to soon test 9 million people.

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