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Covid-19 self-testing kits become available in French pharmacies

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Self-testing kits for the coronavirus causing Covid-19 will be available in pharmacies around France from Monday. The tests, already used in other European countries, are designed to complement France’s other testing measures.

About one million tests were to be available, initially in 6,000 of France’s 22,000 pharmacies, after the government gave its nod of approval in an official notice on Sunday.

The tests “will gradually become available in thousands of pharmacies through the course of the week”, Health Minister Olivier Véran told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper the same day.

The announcement came after health regulators approved their use for anyone over 15 and not already showing Covid-19 symptoms.

“Less invasive” and “allow[ing] more frequent testing” than other nasal-swab tests, according to the official notice.

No sale in supermarkets

While they do not require supervision of a health professional, the tests have only been approved for sale by health professionals who can explain their use at the time of sale, regulators said.

That decision means that unlike in other countries, including Germany, the self-tests will not be available in supermarkets in France, at least for the time being.

Seven kits are available, including four produced by Chinese companies, two by Swiss company Biosynex and one by French company AAZ.

Their price is regulated, fixed at 6 euros until 15 May, when the cost drops to 5.20 euros. Online sales are forbidden.

Less invasive nasal swabs

The tests are do-it-yourself versions of the rapid antigen tests already available in pharmacies, and come with a shorter and less invasive nasal swab.

A person takes a sample with the swab and places the swab in a tube with a solution. A positive sample changes the colour of a band within 30 minutes.

As with in-pharmacy antigen tests, a positive result on a home test will be confirmed by a PCR test, which is more reliable and takes longer to analyse.

Also like in-pharmacy tests, the self-testing kits are at least 80 percent accurate. PCR tests, whose results must be analysed in a laboratory and generally come after about 48 hours, are at least 98 percent accurate.

French health officials said the home tests, like the other rapid tests, served as an additional tool for confronting the Covid-19 epidemic and had the capacity to reassure users before meeting family and friends.

The self-tests are not just intended for home use, with Véran explaining they would eventually be available in schools as well, in order to test consenting teachers and pupils at least twice per week.

Vaccination campaign ramps up

The tests come the same day as France expands its vaccine campaign to everyone aged 55 and up.

Coming one week ahead of schedule, anyone over 55 will be eligible to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine or the one-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has arrived in France in a shipment of 200,000 doses earlier than planned.

This vaccine has shown a 85 percent success rate in preventing serious forms of the disease; and 66 percent for mild cases. In logistical terms, it can be stored for up to three months at standard refrigerator temperature, unlike other vaccines.

Despite making up for lost time with a steady rollout of the vaccines after months of setbacks and delays, Véran said France still needed to step up its pace.

(with newswires)