KAYSERBERG, France (Reuters) – In a nursing home near Colmar in eastern France, the region hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, laboratory staff clad in full protective gear conducted blood tests as health authorities battle to slow infections among the elderly.

In France and other countries like Spain and the United State, the coronavirus has spread like wildfire through care homes, sending the number of fatalities spiralling higher.

More than a third of all COVID-19-related deaths in France have taken place inside retirement and nursing homes, prompting the government last week to order mandatory testing for all their residents and staff.

The La Weiss home had registered several suspected COVID-19 cases but had hitherto been spared a major outbreak, staff said.

The six laboratory workers operated swiftly within the La Weiss home in Kayserberg, which lies beneath the Vosges mountains near the border with Germany, taking roughly 200 samples in two hours.

With staff unable to know who might be infected, residents have been confined to their rooms, unable to receive family and visitors, and barred from socialising with one another.

“If we can’t see our families, what’s the point of living?” one elderly resident told a Reuters photographer.

The region around Colmar was the epicentre of the virus outbreak in France and it has suffered the highest mortality rate.

Local authorities say they hope the tests will enable homes to adapt the strict confinement rules and ease the harmful effects of isolation on the elderly residents.

(Reporting by Christian Hartmann; Editing by Richard Lough, William Maclean)

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