Alert as Covid UK variant hits 70% in Dunkirk

The current stable Covid levels may be ‘a reprieve’ ahead of the rising presence of new variants, a senior scientist has said

16 February 2021
A tap in a kitchen. Covid France: North on alert as variants spreadMilitary teams are analysing waste water as another way to monitor the spread of Covid variants
By Hannah Thompson

The new variants of Covid-19 mean France must be on extra high alert - despite the situation appearing stable now - a senior doctor has said, as the north and east of the country fight new strains.

Professor Didier Pittet, infections specialist and epidemiologist at Geneva University Hospitals, and president of France’s independent Covid-19 management mission, told news service RTL: “The number of cases is relatively stable, and even dropping slightly.

“[But the variants] require extra vigilance.”

Professor Pittet said that the current stable situation is due to a “reprieve linked to the presence of these variants”, and said that he would not exclude the need for “local measures that could mean lockdown by neighbourhood, town, or region”.

The government has not ruled out a future lockdown if the health situation worsens, but has judged that the curfew measures and other restrictions are enough so far.

Variant spread

It comes as the virus variants continue to spread in the north of France.

In Dunkirk, health authority l'Agence régionale de santé (ARS) Hauts-de-France this week announced the launch of a massive testing campaign after more than 70% of positive tests appeared to be of the UK variant.

In a statement, the ARS said: “In addition to the usual testing service, this campaign is intended to facilitate test access closer to people’s place of home or work, and to encourage a greater number of people to be tested.

“These tests are available for free, without an appointment, or prescription.”

The ARS has also confirmed the allocation of 2,400 extra doses of the Moderna vaccine to Dunkirk and Hauts-de-Flandre, intended for “vulnerable people at home”.

The ARS said: “The objective is to identify and prioritise these vulnerable people via at-home healthcare services, as well as chemotherapy patients and people with chronic kidney conditions, via hospital structures that are caring for them.”

Government response criticised

Mayor of Dunkirk, Patrice Vergriete, has condemned the government’s response to the situation in Dunkirk as “incoherent” and “unsuitable”, as the UK variant and other variants continue to spread.

He said: “We are in an epidemic alert situation and we have not had the expected reaction from the state.”

 

No lockdown in north east

It comes after a new lockdown was not imposed in Moselle, Grand Est - despite the region announcing a higher-than-average incidence of the South African and Brazilian variants in recent days.

François Grosdidier, the mayor of Moselle’s administrative centre Metz, had called for a new lockdown, but department prefect Laurent Touvet said on Saturday: “The current measures are sufficient.”

Yet, the region has imposed new rules on schools, requiring immediate closure if even one case of a new variant is identified.

More Covid tests are also being carried out and positive cases are being asked to self-isolate for 10 days rather than the usual seven.

Water analysis

Military personnel from Marseille, who are specialised in water analysis, are working with teams in Moselle to help analyse levels of new variants in the town’s used water.

The tests will help the personnel draw maps to pinpoint the highest levels of the new variants in a bid to stop the spread, even before any tests return a positive result.

Olivier Delcayrou, deputy prefect in Metz and general secretary of the Moselle prefecture, told the Agence France-Presse: “Sampling used water from elderly care homes and doing Covid tests after, is another way of anticipating [the spread] a week in advance of any future positive [tests] from residents or staff.”

The teams will test water from elderly care homes, schools, and water treatment plants.

The first results are expected early tomorrow.

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