France sees spike in COVID cases just as free testing for unvaccinated ends

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A medical worker holds a test tube after administering a nasal swab to a patient at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in Les Sorinieres near Nantes, as PCR and antigenic tests, necessary for unvaccinated to get a valid health pass, become charged, excluding medical prescriptions, in France, October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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PARIS, Oct 15 (Reuters) - France saw the biggest spike in new coronavirus infections since the end of July on the last day of free testing for unvaccinated people, health ministry data showed.

The ministry reported 6,099 new cases over the past 24 hours, an increase of 36% compared to last Friday's 4,470 cases.

From Friday, people who have not been vaccinated have had to pay for COVID-19 tests, which so far had been free in France. Tests will remain free of charge for people who have been vaccinated, for people who show symptoms and have a doctor's note, and for minors between 12 and 17.

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Epidemiologists have said fewer case could be uncovered and the tally could be skewed down from Saturday, when Friday's data is published.

But, given that access to many public places and for air and train travel rely on the a health pass showing people are vaccinated or have a recent negative test, it is not yet clear how much of an impact the move will have.

The count released on Friday was the fourth consecutive week-on-week increase, after the daily infection tally had been falling virtually without interruption since mid-August, when the seven-day moving average of new cases stood at just under 24,000.

Since then, the daily average had steadily fallen to less than 4,200 on Saturday, but on Sunday the trend turned and France has registered more than 5,000 new cases per day over the past four days.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 continued falling, by 53 to 6,470 on Friday, and the number of COVID patients in intensive care was stable at 1,076.

France also registered 32 new deaths and the seven-day average of deaths fell by one to 30.

At the end of last month, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that the COVID-19 health situation was improving in France but added that the government had no plans to ease the health pass restrictions set up to rein in a fourth wave of infections.

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Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Alison Williams

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