French rush for COVID-19 tests ahead of Christmas reunion

PARIS: Student Jules de Biase was fully vaccinated and had no symptoms of COVID-19, but on Wednesday, before he saw his elderly grandmother for the Christmas holidays, he took a test to make sure he was fine.

“You’d better make sure you’re negative,” he said.

Many others agree, as the Omicron variant quickly spread across France and the rest of Western Europe as the holiday season approaches.

Laura Korniak, a 29-year-old communications specialist, said she is also getting tested as a precaution.

“I wanted to take the test before I joined my family to celebrate Christmas,” she said.

COVID PCR and antigen tests are free of charge for people affiliated with French Social Security and are vaccinated. For others, the tests are among the cheapest in Europe, with an antigen test costing around 25 euros ($28.27) and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test costing less than 50 euros.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has resisted further restrictions on public life to circumvent the Omicron increase, relying instead on a boosted vaccination campaign. France already requires a health permit to enter bars, restaurants, museums and other entertainment venues.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday that Omicron will soon become the dominant alternative in the country with cases expected to reach 100,000 new infections per day by the end of the year.

Pharmacists said they are struggling to meet demand for the test.

“Two weeks ago, if we did 50 tests a day, it was a long and hard day. Now, we do 200 tests a day easily,” explains Farah Galwing, a pharmacist at Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris.

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“There is a huge demand for home test kits and now we are out of stock.”

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