Covid-19: 72-Hour Testing Measures Spark Panic

The French community in the United States has been thrown into panic. From August 1, anyone wanting to travel to France from the U.S. will be asked to present negative Covid-19 test results obtained no more than 72 hours beforehand. Mission impossible? Almost.
© Sebastian Kahnert/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

The French government’s decree n° 2020-911 on July 27, 2020 is very clear. It states that anyone flying from the United States to France must present “the results of a PCR test carried out within 72 hours before the flight showing they are not contaminated with Covid-19.” This measure applies to all French citizens over the age of 11 arriving from the United States, as well as from Bahrein, Panama, and the United Arab Emirates.

The only problem is that American test centers and laboratories are overwhelmed, and test results often take more than 72 hours to process. Patients should expect to wait “between four and seven days” according to the emergency department at Lenox Health Greenwich Village hospital in Manhattan. “Sometimes it takes three days, sometimes it takes a week. It all depends on how much availability the laboratory has,” says a staff member at Mount Sinai hospital in Union Square.

The Urgent Care clinic on West 13th Street announced waiting times of “ten to fourteen days,” before adding that “if you have to travel, tell your doctor. They will administer the test and you will be able to receive your results within three days.” Five minutes away, the CityMD clinic on West 14th Street advises patients contact their family doctor. “We are unable to accelerate the process, but by contacting your primary care physician you may be able to receive your results faster.”

Worried by vague answers and different services refusing to take responsibility, many French people have approached the consulates of France in the United States and have contacted Roland Lescure, representative of French citizens in North America. He has sent an email to those affected stating that he has informed the French government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health. “Following our appeal, a cross-ministry meeting will be held [on Thursday] afternoon.”

The objective of this meeting is to “adapt the measures” to enable French people traveling from the United States to comply with the same rules as those arriving from South Africa, Brazil, India, and all other countries affected by the pandemic but which are unable to conduct population-wide tests. According to the decree of July 27, 2020, these passengers can take a test upon arriving at the airport.

Since May 25, 2020, travelers arriving in France must also sign a statement swearing that they have no Covid-19 symptoms and present it to flight staff before boarding. Meanwhile, France’s borders are still closed to American citizens, and vice versa. Anyone who has stayed in or traveled through France (or any of the other countries in the Schengen Area) within 14 days before their flight to the United States is not authorized to enter America.

Update, July 30, 2020, 3:45 pm EST: According to Air France, “a tolerance period” will be granted to passengers arriving in France from the United States through August 5. Roland Lescure, representative for French citizens in North America, has confirmed that “until August 5, French citizens in North America can return to France without having to prove they have taken a PCR test within 72 hours.”

Update, August 3, 2020, 12:05 pm EST: For those returning to France after August 5 and to guarantee citizens will receive their results within 72 hours, the French consulate in New York has introduced a special system and signed an agreement with four doctors and a medical laboratory in New Jersey. The procedure required for taking the test is available on the consulate’s website.

Update, August 6, 2020, 8:15 pm EST: When citizens are unable to obtain test results within 72 hours before their flight, “it has been decided that the consulates will be authorized to provide dispensation,” says Roland Lescure, the representative for French citizens in North America, who has encouraged travelers to write to their local consulate.

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