French officials meet to tackle bedbug infestation

France’s government is working hard to contain a national panic over bedbugs, as a Paris school becomes the latest building hit by a reported infestation.

Senior officials from the health, economy and transport ministries are meeting on Friday at the prime minister’s office to co-ordinate a plan of action against the insects.

They are expected to speed up proposals for a national observatory on bedbugs.

Their aim is to establish an accurate picture of the phenomenon.

Entomologists and health experts have warned that although there has been an undoubted surge in the bedbug population – and not just in France – many recent sightings are false, and there is a risk of unwarranted hysteria.

Nicolas Roux de Bézieux, creator of the pest control website, says in three out of four calls he gets from concerned homeowners, the problems turn out not to have been caused by bedbugs.

Romain Morzaderc, a pest-controller in Brittany, told Ouest-France newspaper that “in 99 per cent of cases, yes, there are nasty black insects, but no, they are not bedbugs”.

The government has been alarmed by the way the bedbug story has dominated headlines at home and abroad. Ministers fear the image of Paris is being damaged, and that tourism could suffer, especially during next year’s Olympics.

But they need to strike a delicate balance between reassuring the public, and at the same time, raising awareness of a problem that needs prompt action if it is to be properly controlled.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune said on Wednesday that nearly 50 reported sightings of bedbugs on metro and SNCF trains, not one had been verified.

“I wouldn’t like to see a kind of French-bashing take hold… as it does sometimes in Anglo-Saxon countries,” he said.

“The problem needs to be taken very seriously. No denial. And no hysteria.”

Over recent weeks, pest-control companies across France have reported a huge increase in bedbug call-outs. Experts say there is always a pick-up after the summer holidays, and every year the surge is getting bigger.

“It’s happening in cities everywhere”, said Roux de Bézieux.

Bedbugs have also been reported in cinemas, trains, hospitals and schools. Social media has hugely amplified public anxiety – though many videos circulating on the internet turn out to be of insects that are not bedbugs.

In the latest verified case, teachers at the Elisa-Lemonnier lycée (high school) in the 12th district of Paris refused to work on Friday after several classrooms, offices and changing areas were found to have bedbugs.

Among other measures under consideration by government are regulating the price of eradication; clarifying financial responsibilities between flat-owners and renters; and a registered list of pest-control companies.

Fear of being conned by cowboy operators can lead worried flat-owners to delay calling in help.

According to France’s leading expert on bedbugs, Jean-Michel Berenger, many pest-controllers have minimal training and are unscrupulous about intervening even when they know bedbugs are not the issue. (BBC)

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