Testing in the Hexagon

It was part of its strategy to prevent new COVID-19 waves. The French government had launched a new method for reporting on tests and positive cases. The new tool, SIDEP (Service Intégré de Dépistage Et de Prévention) aimed at improved finding and following infected people. One key objective was to rapidly identify 75% of all cases. Also, the government hoped to realize 700,000 tests a week.

The new tool became operational on May 18. From that day onward, collective test data could no longer be processed by Our World in Data – reason why France was not part of our list of 86 countries. In fact, by glancing through SIDEP-information, one quickly learns that downloading data is a cumbersome affair. Nonetheless, the Santé Publique France (SPF) seems to have done a meticulous job in its comprehensive weekly bulletins.

So where does this leave France’s new testing strategy 3 months further? Rapid identification still seems an illusion. According to SPF’s disclaimer, the time between sampling and feedback of the test result could sometimes take 9 days or more.

On August 20, SPF issued its latest report. In week 33 (August 10 – 16), France had carried out 628,600 PCR (virus) tests. 547,867 people were tested for the first time; 16,747 people were found positive.

628,600 tests correspond with 1.34 daily tests per 1000 people. Compared with its neighbors, France is currently testing more than Switzerland (0.60), Italy (0.79), Germany (0.98) and Spain (1.01), but less than Belgium (1.64) and Luxembourg (3.54).

With 628,600 tests per week, France has reached 90% of the original goal set. However, over the past two weeks, the number of tests has remained constant, while the number of new infections is on the rise (+43% compared with week 32). The positivity rate hence increases.

Recently, the health agency of the Grand-Est Region appealed for caution in interpreting data. With the virus equally present in 2 different territories, the one that tests more will find more cases, it stated. That looks like a truism. It is not. It merely suggests that the number of cases found in France is still much less than 75% of the true number of cases, the target value.

It’s high time for new, more ambitious testing goals. Fast test response and more testing should be at the top of the list.


Santé publique France

Our World in Data

Cover image by FakeMoon via Shutterstock