Covid-19 in France

New coronavirus variant identified in western French region of Brittany

The hospital in the western French town of Lannion where the variant was detected.
The hospital in the western French town of Lannion where the variant was detected. © riant

The French health authorities are currently investigating an outbreak linked to the new variant of the coronavirus, with a view to assessing its severity and level of infectiousness. Eight cases have so far been linked to the new variant, all sufferers being part of a cluster in a hospital in the city of Lannion.

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Following detailed analysis at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, scientists have confirmed that the Brittany variant is, indeed, a coronavirus mutation. It presents nine differences from the "standard" virus responsible for Covid-19. Research is continuing. 

At the end of February, the public health agency (ARS) was informed by the Lannion hospital of a "worrying cluster" where 71 people tested positive to Covid-19 (44 patients and 27 workers).

Three weeks later, on 13 March, the number was revised to 79 positive cases, eight of them found to be carrying the so-called "20-C" variant, the scientific name given to the mutation.  

"What we found strange was that some of these infected people had done up to four negative tests," said one hospital source.

Scientists are now trying to establish if the mutations in the Brittany variant are such that the virus become undetectable to nasal PCR testing. If that turns out to be the case, then the number of those infected could be much higher.

Initial test have not yielded any results on the severity of infection or the transmission of the variant.

Intensify tracing methods

The director of the Brittany branch of ARS, Stéphane Mulliez says a special crisis group had been set up at major hospitals in the region to better handle the new development.

He proposed that tracing measures would have to be stepped up, out of caution, "even if there's no confirmation that the patient has this new variant."

"We need to be identifying the second generation of contacts people have had."

Pierre Tattevin, head of infectious diseases at the Rennes hospital, told BFMTV that this variant had affected "several dozen" cases, and perhaps even some deaths.

EU level meeting being held

Despite this, French health authorities remain confident that the vaccines currently being rolled out would be just as effective against the new variant.

Globally, three variants are currently causing concern. They are the so-called UK, South African and Brazilian mutations, all more highly infectious than the original virus.

Meanwhile, health concerns linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine are being addressed by the EMA and the WHO.

A number of European countries including France and Germany on Monday announced the suspension of the vaccine following the reports of blood clots.

"We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects," EMA chief Emer Cooke told an online press conference.

The Amsterdam-based EMA's safety committee was meeting Tuesday to assess new information and would reach a conclusion at a special meeting on Thursday.

 

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