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France launches online test to assess coronavirus symptoms, propose treatment

French rescue workers evacuate a patient in Paris on March 20, 2020, as France faces an aggressive progression of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.
French rescue workers evacuate a patient in Paris on March 20, 2020, as France faces an aggressive progression of the coronavirus disease COVID-19. © Benoit Tessier, Reuters

France this week launched an online test aimed at helping people who are worried they may have contracted the coronavirus to assess their symptoms, and guide them as to what steps to take next.

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The test, approved by the French health ministry, went live on Wednesday on the website maladiecoronavirus.fr. It contains 24 questions related to the most common symptoms experienced by people who have developed the COVID-19 illness after being infected with the coronavirus.

Questions range from “have you had a fever in the past few days?” and “what is your temperature?”, to “have you experienced abnormal fatigue?” or “experienced any respiratory problems?”

At the end of the test, which is based on an algorithm tracking the latest scientific discoveries related to the coronavirus and its contraction, users are also asked to answer questions about their weight, height, age, and additional information concerning their general state of health.

They are then advised on whether they should contact a doctor for further consultation, call the emergency services, or whether they appear unlikely to have contracted the virus.

“The test is not a diagnosis, but rather a health assessment so that people know where to turn,” Dr. Fabrice Denis, a member of the newly established Digital Alliance Against COVID-19, which developed the test, told AFP.  

Over the weekend, the test was widely shared on social media. “I did the test,” Twitter user Léonie Messix wrote, adding several crying emojis, after she received a recommendation to contact her doctor based on her symptoms.

In France, like in many other countries, a shortage of physical coronavirus tests means lab tests are conducted only for cases considered serious or if the patient is elderly or part of a specific risk group, such as people with asthma, diabetes, cancer or other ailments.  

The online test serves to reassure people who might be worried about cold or flu symptoms, but it was developed, mainly, to help offset the massive pressure that the coronavirus has put on the French health services. It helps “reduce the number of unnecessary phone calls to the emergency medical services, which are already saturated,” Denis said.

Another Twitter user, Florent Derue, praised the initiative for its ability to reassure people and help “unblock” the French emergency services' telephone lines for real cases.

On Saturday, more than 2 million people visited the website, of which about 1 million filled out all 24 of questions. Some 12 percent of the test-takers were urged to contact the emergency services. Denis said that the statistics in themselves confirmed the usefulness of the test and the benefit of making it available to the general public.

The test is anonymous, with users only required to submit their postal codes, and the data is sent to the Pasteur Institute in Paris for further analysis.

“It allows us to follow the number of patients, department by department, who have declared a cough and fever and a shortness of breath. And it allows us to see whether the numbers decrease over time,” Denis said.

The Digital Alliance Against COVID-19 consists of around 15 private sector players, including the start-up Kelindi, which coordinates the project, as well as the digital arm of the French postal service Groupe La Poste and insurer Allianz France.

On Sunday, France had a total of 14,459 confirmed coronavirus cases and 562 coronavirus-related deaths.

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