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Coronavirus: French region of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes to carry out mass testing before Christmas

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Medical staff load a patient affected with COVID-19 aboard a medical plane at Bron airport near Lyon, central France, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.
Medical staff load a patient affected with COVID-19 aboard a medical plane at Bron airport near Lyon, central France, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.   -   Copyright  Philippe Desmazes/Pool via AP
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The French region of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes is set to carry out mass COVID-19 testing in the run-up to Christmas, the area's top official has announced.

Residents will be able to take the tests, which are voluntary,

"Our objective is to test as many people as possible in one week, Laurent Wauquiez said.

He added that 2 million tests had been ordered and 1,000 screening centres made available, a logistical effort that he estimated would require 10,000 people to help run it.

Travelling coaches will also be deployed to do tests in rural areas.

"Our goal is to stop the transmission of the virus and protect our seniors during the holidays," he said.

Auvergne Rhône-Alpes is France's second-most-populus region with over 8 million inhabitants.

Wauquiez cited mass testing initiatives in the British city of Liverpool, as well as Austria and Slovakia, speaking about the effort, which is the first of its kind in France.

The army was sent to Liverpool to help carry out mass testing of children in secondary schools — if parents provide their consent, pupils over the age of 11 will be tested twice over a 10-day period as part of the UK’s first mass covid testing trial.

But some scientists have raised their concerns about whether enough thought has been put into the protocol.

Slovakia kicked off an ambitious project at the start of November to test every adult in the country.

France, which has confirmed more infections since the pandemic started than any other European country, is two weeks into its second coronavirus lockdown, which is set to last until December 1 but could go on longer.

The number of people infected per 100,000 has decreased significantly since its peak on November 7.

But France's prime minister last week said it would be "irresponsible to lift or even relax" the lockdown restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

Jean Castex said that although there were hopeful signs with new COVID-19 contaminations down 16%, this hadn't yet been reflected in the hospitalisations.

A patient is hospitalised every thirty seconds with COVID-19, Castex said. Forty per cent of those who are in intensive care are under the age of 65, the prime minister added.

Auvergne Rhône-Alpes is currently the worst-affected region in France in terms of hospitalisations for the coronavirus, according to data from the government's health service.

The region tallied 7,125 people in hospital with the virus on Tuesday, with the Ile-de-France region, which contains Paris, logging 6,610.