France allows Covid positive health workers to continue working instead of self isolating

6 January 2022, 10:45

French health workers who meet certain criteria will be able to carry on working even if they test positive for Covid
French health workers who meet certain criteria will be able to carry on working even if they test positive for Covid. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Health workers in France who have Covid with few or no symptoms will not need to isolate and will instead be able to carry on treating patients.

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The extraordinary stop-gap measure, aimed at alleviating staff shortages caused by high infections, will apply in hospitals, elderly care homes, doctors' offices and other essential health services.

The change only applies to those with few or no symptoms - for example, they must not be coughing or sneezing.

They must also be fully vaccinated.

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France's health system has been put under increasing strain as the Omicron variant continues to sweep through the country.

A staggering 332,252 daily virus cases were reported on Wednesday, Europe's highest ever single-day confirmed infection count.

On top of this, increasing staff absences from Omicron threaten the efficient and safe running of the health service.

The change to isolation rules for health workers is a calculated risk, with the possibility that Covid-positive health workers and carers could infect colleagues and patients weighed against what the government says is a need to keep essential services running.

Outside the health sector, for people not covered by the special exemption, France's quarantine rules require at least five days of self-isolation for fully vaccinated people who test positive.

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With the especially contagious Omicron variant causing surges in infections in many countries, governments and industries have warned that self-isolation rules are leading to staff shortages across a range of sectors.

In some places, including France, quarantines have been shortened to get workers back to their posts.

But France appears to be alone in Europe in now also opening up the possibility for healthcare personnel to work while infected.

There are signs that the new variant causes less severe disease - but huge numbers of new infections are sending increasing numbers of people to hospitals.

Hospital leaders said the new flexibility over self-isolation for health workers in France would help them to plug staffing holes if and when they open up.

"If the system becomes very strained and 50 per cent of our staff are positive, the less symptomatic will come to work because the patients will still need to be cared for," said Professor Marc Leone, head of anaesthesiology at the North Hospital in the southern city of Marseille.

"But we're not in that situation yet," he said.

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The new rules, seen by The Associated Press, were detailed in a Health Ministry alert message that was addressed on Sunday to hospitals, care facilities and health authorities and are being rolled out this week.

The ministry alert said France's deluge of virus infections poses "a major risk of disruption to the offer of care".

It described the measure as "exceptional and temporary" and said it would be lifted when the system is not so saturated with virus cases.

The Health Ministry instructions say that, where possible, the infected workers should not be in contact with non-vaccinated patients or those at greater risk of severe illness with Covid-19.

The ministry said they must also limit as much as possible their interactions with colleagues and cannot take part in shared activities where face masks are taken off, such as food breaks.

In France, Covid patients fill more than 72 per cent of ICU beds - most of which have not been vaccinated, although 77 per cent of the general population has had at least two doses.

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