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French health pass drives increase in COVID-19 tests as vaccinations slow

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By Euronews  with AFP
A restaurant owner scans a health pass at a restaurant in Marseille, southern France, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
A restaurant owner scans a health pass at a restaurant in Marseille, southern France, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Daniel Cole

French biologists and pharmacists carried out a record number of COVID-19 tests in the week following the extension of the country's "health pass" to restaurants, trains and other activities.

A health pass and QR code is provided for those who are vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months but also applies for people who have tested negative in the past 48 hours (for a rapid test) or 72 hours (for a PCR test).

The effort, largely viewed as a way of encouraging the population to get a COVID-19 jab, has stretched thin those carrying out the millions of tests.

"We are really at the peak of our capacities and it will be very complicated to go beyond this," Henry-Pierre Doermann, vice-president of the lab-workers union, told AFP.

There were more than 5.6 million coronavirus tests - PCR and rapid ones - carried out in week 32, between 9 and 15 August, according to Public Health France.

This was up significantly from the previous week when there were 4.15 million tests carried out.

Union leaders said this was largely due to pharmacies carrying out more tests these past weeks instead of laboratories. At least 12,000 pharmacies are currently able to test people out of a total of 21,000.

French citizens had rushed to get coronavirus vaccines after President Emmanuel Macron announced the health pass extension in mid-July, with more than one million appointments booked in the 16 hours that followed his speech.

Vaccine uptake, however, has slightly decreased, dropping by thousands per day in the past week. People getting their first dose has fallen significantly from 2.6 million at the end of July to 1.1 million last week.

The government is aiming to vaccinate 50 million people with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of August.

Currently, at least 47 million people have received a first dose (about 70% of the population), and 40 million people have received a complete vaccination cycle (around 60.7% of the population), according to the Ministry of Health.

There are 58 million people in France who are eligible for vaccination.

The least vaccinated segment of the adult population is the group between 30-39 years of age, where 73.5% of people are vaccinated, according to Doctolib.

The government will also soon focus its campaign on 12-17 year olds, of whom just 55% are vaccinated.