France said yesterday that it is launching a “large-scale” coronavirus testing campaign in a bid to identify any dormant infection clusters.
Some 1.3mn people in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, will receive vouchers for a virus test, Health Minister Olivier Veran told Le Monde newspaper.
Even those who display no symptoms would be eligible, he said.
People who live near previous hotspots will be targeted in a bid to identify asymptomatic carriers who may be transmitting the virus without knowing it, said the minister.
The tests would determine if a person is currently infected, not whether they had had the virus previously.
The government will start with a pilot campaign in Ile-de-France and three other regions – between them accounting for about three-quarters of people who required intensive care for coronavirus complications.
“We are in an experimental phase to see if this corresponds to what the French want,” Veran said of the testing campaign. “The experiment may be extended to other regions later.”
Figures released on Wednesday showed that 29,731 people had died in the coronavirus outbreak in France to date, though the rate has slowed to 11 deaths in 24 hours.
The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
Veran told the newspaper that “the peak of March-April is behind us, but we have not finished with the virus”, and urged people to continue to “avoid large gatherings and risky behaviour” that could help the virus spread.
A lack of systematic testing at the height of the epidemic means statisticians can only model the real number of people infected.
In May, Veran admitted there had been “a gap between the theory and the practice” of testing in France, with many people holding a doctor’s prescription for a test unable to get them.
France has ramped up its capacity since then, and said in May it would be able to carry out 700,000 per week.
Until now, tests were on prescription and reserved for people with possible coronavirus symptoms, or those who had been in contact with a sick person.
Meanwhile, the Eiffel Tower in Paris reopened on Wednesday – for those willing to climb hundreds of steps on a hot summer’s day and, if they’re more than 11 years old, wearing an obligatory face mask.
Lifts in the tower, which received more than 6mn visitors last year but shut down in mid-March due to coronavirus restrictions, will not be reopened until July 1.
In the meantime, visitors will still be able to climb the 674 steps that lead to the second floor, 115m above the ground.
The tower posted images to Twitter of the first visitors arriving on the first and second floors, adding the encouraging comment that each floor was only 10 minutes’ climb.
However, the weather forecast for Paris on Tuesday was less encouraging: state weather service Meteo France was predicting a maximum of 35° Celsius.
France has been gradually easing its strict coronavirus lockdown measures since May 11.
Cafes and restaurants are now open across the country, and cinemas too reopened on Monday.
The Louvre museum, which received more than 9mn visitors in 2019, will reopen on July 6.
Border restrictions with EU states were lifted on June 15, but remain in place for non-EU states pending agreement across the bloc.
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