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French Social Safety Net Defrays Fears Of Coronavirus Testing Costs


The coronavirus has spread to every country in the European Union, and concern there is at least as high as it is here. But there's one thing most Europeans don't have to worry about - the cost of testing and treatment. Unlike the U.S., European countries like France have health care systems that cover everyone. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Susan Herrmann Loomis, an American author and journalist who's lived in France for 30 years, is sitting at a Paris cafe. She says she sometimes has to look for work, but she's never worried about her health care coverage. And the 64-year-old says she's not worried about the coronavirus either.

SUSAN HERRMANN LOOMIS: And it's not going to cost me anything because they'll give me a free test, and I'll go to the pharmacy and get medicine. If I get it, it'll be uncomfortable. But I'm not worried about the money part or the care part because you know that you're going to get taken care of. It takes a huge load off your shoulders.

BEARDSLEY: Paris doctor Bertrand Magnier is examining patients in his office. He says no one is talking about how much the coronavirus will cost them. He's even surprised by the question.

BERTRAND MAGNIER: (Through interpreter) Doctors, emergency services - those are all part of the French health care system. Patients very rarely worry about the financial consequences of their illness.

BEARDSLEY: France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are among European countries where workers receive full pay for at least six weeks if they fall ill, are quarantined or told to stay home by their employer. As the infection rate rises across the continent, economists say Europe's safety net could help ease the economic toll of the coronavirus by cushioning individuals and businesses.

France now has more than 1,700 people infected by the coronavirus. Large gatherings like book fairs, sports events and concerts are now prohibited. But nearly all schools are still open, and people are still going about their daily business. But some experts say it's only a matter of weeks or even days until the epidemic escalates. President Emmanuel Macron had this warning for the French nation.


EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) We have to be clear and lucid. We're organized, but we're only confronting the beginning of this crisis. I want to remind you that 85% percent of those who get this virus will have a very benign form. So we must remain calm and prepare ourselves to fight the more grave cases.

BEARDSLEY: Eric Caumes is an infectious disease specialist at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris. He says despite reassurances, the epidemic now cannot be stopped. The emphasis must be on slowing its development.

ERIC CAUMES: Of course, the French health system is quite well-prepared but is not prepared to face one big wave of outbreak. If the outbreak is over many month, then it will be possible. Otherwise, probably, it will not be possible, and there will be many, many, many death.

BEARDSLEY: Up to now, each European country has been struggling to deal with COVID-19 on its own. Today, President Macron organized a video conference between all 27 EU leaders in an effort to launch a coordinated Europe-wide strategy to fight the coronavirus.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.