Does France practice nearly 300,000 tests per week, as Olivier Véran claims?


While the government has set itself the objective of carrying out 700,000 weekly tests as of May 11, you are asking us about the number of tests currently carried out in France, and the statements made by the Minister of Health, who mentioned, Thursday on LCI, 280,000 screenings last week.

On the only public documents evoking the number of tests, we are far from this total. Each week, Santé publique france publishes in its epidemiological bulletin the number of tests from the previous week. The last bulletin, dating from Thursday, mentions for example approximately 30,000 to 35,000 tests carried out in private laboratories and approximately 90,000 carried out by hospital laboratories. That is to say from 120,000 to 130,000 weekly tests in total for the last weeks.

Why do these figures, used for international comparisons, differ so much from the statistics of 280,000 weekly tests given by the Minister of Health? As he already said a few weeks ago, Olivier Véran assured on LCI that the official count was in fact incomplete: International publications take into account data from Public Health France which is not exhaustive, instead of taking into account the tests that are actually performed.”

Large ignition delay

As we already explained in a previous answer, the figures from the health agency are indeed imperfect. And for good reason: France is still unable to count the number of tests. The feedback from private laboratories is only partial, since it only concerns laboratories (about a third of the 4,000 labs) which have their samples analyzed by the ill-named network called “3labos”, which is based on two centralized laboratory samples : Eurofins Biomnis and Cerba, the results of which go back to Santé publique France. In fact, around two thirds of city labs (which do not have their samples analyzed by the “3labos” network) therefore do tests which are not counted. Note that the results of these “forgotten tests” are also not taken into account in the statistics at national level. Thus, for more than a month, city labs have discovered positive patients … who do not fit into the count of confirmed cases, however updated daily by public health France.

Authorities have been trying for nearly a month to put the house in order, which is largely due, according to industry players, to a big delay in switching on the health authorities in resorting to the private sector. At the start of the health crisis, the government chose to rely solely on referral hospitals for testing, resulting in very low capacity. Since then, the authorities have been forced to review the strategy and try to integrate the private sector. As Checknews revealed it, the consulting firm Bain & Company was commissioned in April to take stock of the capacities and the needs of the various laboratories, but also to organize the feedback of information from the labs.

Currently, the Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics Department (Drees) centralizes this information in real time. The past few weeks have also been occupied with the complex installation of piping allowing the feedback of information from private and public labs. As of May 11, it is planned that all of the data will go back to a common platform (Sidep). Which would finally provide information on the true number of screenings. But also on the identity of the people tested. For each result would appear in particular a name, a date of birth, contact details. This is not without problems in terms of protection of private data.

Far from the goal

In the meantime, can we have an estimate, at present, of the total number of screenings carried out in the territory? Questioned by CheckNews, the president of the union of young medical biologists, Lionel Barrand, judges, from the extrapolations that one can make, that the estimate of 280,000 weekly tests of Olivier Véran is plausible: “We must be two-thirds of tests done by the private sector, and a third by hospitals.” As explained, it is however impossible to have confirmation on the number of precise tests, since there is not yet a tool to centralize everything.

The certainty, it is that if the total of screenings is higher than the data of Public Health France, it remains nevertheless very far from the objective of 700,000 tests per week. Is the objective accessible? Some doubt it. Machines manufactured by MGI, capable of carrying out more than 2,000 tests per day, must be installed and put into service in hospitals. But then you will have to have enough to make them run at full speed. “It’s not all about having the machines, you also need to have fuel”, explains Lionel Barrand, referring to the other crucial subject of the upcoming screening campaign: swabs and reagents. The Minister of Health, who received representatives of the various laboratories in the middle of the week, assured that everything would be done so that the equipment was available on May 11. Will this be the case? Response within a week.


Listen to the weekly behind the scenes podcast of CheckNews. This week: Covid-19: the puzzle of excess mortality figures

Several media, but also health authorities, are now relying on death figures from all causes to try to take stock of the epidemic. By delving into the statistics, Fabien Leboucq and Cédric Mathiot found an indicator that allows a better comparison of the number of deaths in the countries affected by Covid-19.

Cedric Mathiot



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