Cannes Kicks Off With Onslaught of COVID Testing: ‘We’re Already Experts in Saliva’

Cannes 2021: The festival promised a global celebration, but for now it’s all about testing — and spit

Cannes Film Festival 2021
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A year after the Cannes Film Festival folded its 2020 event in the face of the global health crisis, Cannes and COVID regulations find themselves at an uneasy truce — with a small army of people collecting spit from attendees for rapid virus testing to keep the event running according to health protocols.

Because the French app used to screen for COVID vaccines doesn’t recognize U.S. certificates, international attendees — even if they are fully vaccinated — are required to show a negative COVID test every 48 hours.  

The process for booking a test is painless enough. After logging onto a dedicated webpage, you can book an immediate appointment at a testing site a three-minute walk from the Palais. Open all day every day and offering tests free of charge, the site is expected to process 4,000 saliva tests a day, with the results emailed to you six hours later (However, some have reported waiting even longer still — so heads up). 

The process of generating enough saliva, however, requires a bit more finesse. 

Different sets of test workers will greet you, handing you a vial to fill and reminding you that eating, drinking or smoking within 30 minutes of the test will render your sample unusable. Then they’ll check your contribution for quality and quantity. 

“We’re already experts in saliva,” Enzo, one the test site inspectors told TheWrap. “There’s no real training for this, but you get used to it quick enough.” 

Like nearly all the test site employees, Enzo is in his late teens, a local youth hired to process the government-mandated tests that assure international visitors access to this year’s events. “We go through 200 vials an hour, and for those who can’t produce enough we propose the nose test,” he continues. “Although when you come upon a dose that has a strange color, that can be a bit (unpleasant).”

A half block away, Cannes’ Palais des Festival also shows signs of dual use. 

Unable to host any international gatherings for much of the past year, the Palais had served as a homeless shelter and later as a large-scale vaccination site at different intervals over the past 16 months. This is a far cry from the pomp and insouciance that festival director Thierry Fremaux touted as the first global celebration of the post-pandemic age.

In fact, the Palais remains a busy vaccination location. Sitting just next to the red carpeted steps and directly below a massive poster of jury president Spike Lee is a vaccination site, run by the city of Cannes, that will deliver 600 doses a day for every day of this year’s festival.

And on July 18, after the Palme d’Or is awarded, the carpet rolled up and Spike’s image taken down, the vaccination site — and the need for it — will remain. 

Read TheWrap’s digital Cannes magazine here.

TheWrap Cannes issue cover


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