Going to the beach in Paris? Why not test for COVID-19?

By Noemie Olive and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - Parisians heading to the opening of Paris Plages, the yearly transformation of sections of the Seine river into man-made beaches, were met with a new attraction on Saturday: COVID-19 test centres.

A series of indicators across the country, including in the French capital, have suggested the virus could once again be gaining momentum. Authorities are pushing an aggressive testing policy to avoid a return to the peaks seen from March to May.

"At Paris-Plages people have got the time and they really want to know whether they have been sick ... and there are those who need a certificate to travel on some airlines to go on holiday," Muriel Prudhomme, a doctor and deputy at the townhall's health department, told Reuters as a steady stream of people of all ages came to be tested.

The artificial beaches on the banks of the Seine in central Paris and the Bassin de la Villette, a man-made lake in the northeast of the city, have been a raging success since they were launched by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe in 2002.

As well as sand and views of central Paris’ architecture, Paris Plage offers sporting opportunities such as fencing, giant table-football, and open-air gyms looking out over the Seine, although this year the tighter health restrictions have limited some of the activities.

Along the banks of the river and the Bassin de la Villette, medical teams are now in place at two locations until the end of August offering serological and standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests with a capacity to carry out 150 to 200 a day.

"I'm taking all necessary precautions, but there are so many people that don't seem to care," said pensioner Nicole Gressier. "I'm going to see my granddaughter who I haven't seen for nine months, so when I was strolling here I saw it was possible to be tested, so why not?"

The disease has killed more than 30,000 people in France. While it has been under control with fatalities and the number of people in intensive care falling, daily cases have increased ahead of the summer holiday season as people gather in larger groups and travellers come to and from France without specific quarantine measures.

Kais Arbi, 25, who lives in a northwestern Parisian suburb, took the test knowing that he was travelling to see his family in Tunisia in the coming weeks.

"I did the PCR test so I know my current state of health," said Arbi, who tested negative. "I don't want to spread it to another country."

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)