More masks, more tests: France lays out strategy to fight Covid-19

French Prime minister Edouard Philippe outlined his government's various strategies to fight the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the country.
French Prime minister Edouard Philippe outlined his government's various strategies to fight the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the country. © POOL/AFP

As fatalities in France rose to 2,314 on Saturday, the government announced a series of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Five thousand daily coronavirus tests, over a billion face masks ordered and more steps outlined to reassure the French public.


Prime Minister Edouard Philippe took nearly two hours to clearly explain to the French public what his government was doing to contain the Covid-19 spread in France. He was backed by health specialists and his minister of Health minister, Olivier Véran.

Saturday’s intervention was marked by “transparency”, a word often reiterated by Philippe, at a time when some surveys say the French don’t think their government is managing the crisis properly.

Philippe warned that the first two weeks of April will be particularly hard, even more difficult than the last 15 days.

“Half of the world in under lockdown, this is unprecedented,” he said at the start of the press conference. “But I will allow no one to tell me that we were too late in enforcing the lockdown.”


Given the surge in global demand for face masks, “no country in the world has enough masks to face the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Health minister Olivier Véran announced that over a billion masks had been ordered “from everywhere where it is possible to do so”.

He added that the French public will be informed as soon as the shipments land.

“We need 40 million face masks per week. And we can only currently produce 8 million per week. Our local suppliers are trying to drastically increase their daily production to half a million,” he said.

Test kits

Véran said that five million rapid test kits had been ordered which will enable France to carry out 30,000 tests per day in April and more than 100,000 tests during post-lockdown in later months.

Covid-19 immunisation tests do not exist yet, Prime Minster Philippe said, but "the world is waiting for them” as they will be essential during the post-lockdown period.

A vaccination for the coronavirus is still some time away, said Véran. But 13 clinical trials are underway with ten of them likely to be approved.

ICU capacity boosted

Hospitals across the country are usually able to admit 5,000 patients in intensive care units (ICU). This is largely insufficient given the rapid progression of the coronavirus.

“We have managed to increase our ICUs capacity to 10,000 beds and it will soon reach 14,000 to 15,000,” announced Véran.

The health minister said he also had to make the difficult decision of ordering the individual isolation of elderly people in nursing homes in order to protect them from Covid-19 infection.

Workers in nursing are to be tested in priority, he added.

Volunteers and foreign doctors

The French government is to authorise through decree doctors who graduated outside Europe to work in France.

Véran said 1,000 people per day were volunteering as health workers, from young to retired doctors.

An online platform has been set up to liaise medical institution with available health workers.

The prime minister concluded by saying his government intends to regularly inform the French public about its strategy. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, the government will respond to questions from the National Assembly and Senate.

“We are facing a difficult situation. You know it. We know it," said the Prime Minister. "This struggle will last. We will only win by being disciplined and observing lockdown measures."

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