EU races to control Covid variant


France and other EU countries are rushing to isolate cases of the highly infectious variant of Covid-19 dominant in parts of England while preparing for a possible tightening of movement restrictions if the mutation threatens to spread widely.

Jean CastexThe French prime minister told parliamentarians at a meeting on Monday that it was impossible to rule out a third lockdown of the country, officials said.

Arnaud Fontanet, epidemiologist and member of the government’s scientific council on the pandemic, said it was important to consider closing the border to countries like the UK in the face of the ‘very serious threat’ posed by the new variant .

“By midweek we will know the size of the enemy and we will have to take the appropriate action,” Fontanet told BFMTV. Jean-François Delfraissy, who heads the council, said last week that France “probably cannot avoid” the rapid spread of the variant, which took two and a half months to reach 60 percent of new viral infections in some. parts of the UK.

Philippe Froguel, professor of genomics at Imperial College London and Lille in France, said very little genetic sequencing of the virus had so far been done in France compared to the UK, and that it was likely the new variant was already well established.

In February, he said: ‘I’m afraid we are in exactly the same situation as the UK with 50,000 to 60,000 new cases a day and a large number of deaths.

French health workers have already found more than two dozen cases of the English variant Covid in Marseille to the south, Lille to the north and in the Alps to the southeast, but fear there are hundreds or thousands of ‘other infections not detected. At least seven people have been found infected with the English variant of a cluster in Marseille from a family of five who had returned from their base in the UK for the Christmas holidays.

Benoît Payan, mayor of Marseille, said on Sunday that there was a “worrying” reality of viral infections in the city and “every minute counts in the effort to control the English variant”. Marseille is in one of the 23 French departments now operating with an extended night curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. For the rest of the country, including Paris, the curfew begins at 8 p.m.

A similar trend is visible in other parts of Western Europe, even as governments struggle to implement mass immunization programs that initially target health workers, the elderly and the vulnerable for protection. .

Ireland only detected the British variant for the first time on Christmas Day, but it has since had a big impact on the spike in infections in the country, amplifying transmission of the coronavirus after social restrictions were eased on the approach of the holidays.

The rise in infections has alarmed health officials and put enormous pressure on hospitals across the country, with the 14-day coronavirus incidence rate per 100,000 population at 1,291 on January 9, down from 166 on December 23.

“The British variant had a very significant impact in terms of the speed of transmission growth, I am convinced”, Micheál Martinthe Prime Minister said on NewsTalk radio on Monday.

Although the taoiseach said “socialization” in December was also a factor in the outbreak, there was evidence that the UK variant “was increasing in terms of percentage of overall transmission”. Official data suggests that the variant accounted for 45% of the 92 samples sent for further testing, up from 25% in the week to January 3.

Chart showing UK Covid hospital occupancy rate now among the highest in the world

In Belgium, infection rates in Brussels have jumped by more than three-quarters in a week, what some observers fear may be the impact of people returning to the European institutional center after a Christmas and New Year’s trip.

The Belgian capital, which is the seat of both the EU and NATO, saw an increase of 76% for the seven-day period until last Thursday compared to the previous week, official figures show . This has redoubled fears of appearing more cases of the British variant, adding to the handful already discovered in Belgium.

Denmark has tightened travel restrictions in response to the spread of British and South African coronavirus strains, banning entry since the weekend to all international air arrivals unless they have a Covid test. 19 negative of the 24 hours before boarding the plane.

The European Commission declined to comment specifically on the new Danish travel rules, but said it was “closely monitoring” the situation. He added that he had “pushed for more and better coordination” at EU level on border controls.

Spain said last week it had detected at least 60 cases of the English strain, but added that the total could rise significantly due to the number of cases being investigated.

Information on the prevalence of the new strain reflects not only the rate of infection, but also the different capacities of countries to detect it. Spain has had difficulties compiling national data since the start of the pandemic, in part because of differences in methodologies between the country’s 17 regions, which have primary responsibility for health policy.

Last week, a Spanish genetics lab in Valencia detected the new strain in two patients with no known link to the UK, indicating community transmission had started. The samples had been taken two weeks earlier. France has also found at least two cases unrelated to the UK.

“It is clear that there is community transmission, but we do not know at what level,” said Fernando González Candelas, researcher at the Fisabio Foundation in Valencia and professor of genetics at the University of Valencia. Noting that the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid had found the new variant in only 1% of the samples tested, he added: “There are indications that it is weak, but we cannot be sure.”

Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Madrid and Arthur Beesley in Dublin

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