France is registering an overwhelming number of Covid tests as people prepare to spend Christmas Eve with family in the midst of a fifth Covid wave. Pharmacies are running low on self-tests, which some say shows a lack of foresight by the government.
Ahead of Christmas Eve, the most important family holiday in France, people are queuing up at pharmacies and laboratories to get tested in record numbers.
The Drees statistics office shows said 6.27 million Covid tests were performed from 13-19 December, a record that is expected to be broken this week as people prepare for the holiday.
Nearly a million PCR and antigen tests are being done each day in France, according to Health Minister Olivier Véran.
In the face of the pandemic’s fifth wave, the government has been pushing testing, especially for 20-39-year-olds, who represent the most new cases detected.
President Emmanuel Macron released a selfie-style TikTok video on Thursday calling on young people to get themselves tested before joining family members for the holidays.
"Even if you are vaccinated, test yourselves or go get yourself tested to be sure you are not carrying the virus before you go see your loved ones,” he said, standing in front of a giant Christmas tree at the Elysée palace.
Covid tests are covered by the Social security system for those who are vaccinated. Unvaccinated people pay 22 euros for an antigen test or 44 euros for a PCR.
The cost of the traditional tests plus long lines at pharmacies and testing centres means many people are looking for self-tests, which sell for 5.20 euros each.
But it is not easy to find one.
The government ordered 64 million self tests in April, for teachers and other employees of the national education system.
Pharmacies have ordered tests, but global supply chain issues have slowed down deliveries. And the convergence of Omicron with the holiday season has driven more demand than expected.
According to the president of the federation of pharmacy unions, two thirds of pharmacies are out of self tests.
Retailers are asking to be allowed to sell the self-tests. Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the head of the E.Leclerc chain of hypermarkets, said he had hundreds of thousands in stock, waiting for authorisation to sell them.
In March, the Carrefour chain had ordered a million self-tests, but had not received authorisation.
France is not facing a testing shortage along the lines of the United States, with PCR and antigen tests still available, despite long lines, the shortage of self-tests has opened the door to political criticism.
MP Eric Coquerel of the hard-left France Unbowed party said the shortage shows the government “lacks anticipation”.
“It’s been two years that the government is lagging behind,” he said on LCI television, making reference to France’s scrambling to acquire enough masks at the start of the pandemic.
Green party MP and spokesperson for Yannick Jadot’s presidential campaign also criticised the government’s lack of foresight in a media interview.