The Delta (‘Indian’) variant of Covid-19 is spreading in southwest France, with 114 confirmed new cases and 134 suspected cases reported this week.
The new numbers were confirmed by Didier Couteaud, departmental manager at regional health agency l'Agence régionale de santé (ARS) Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
The 114 confirmed cases have been sequenced and screened, while the other 134 cases are awaiting confirmation but are probably the Delta variant, the ARS said.
During a press conference, Landes prefect Cécile Bigot-Dekeyzer said: “The health situation is improving, [but the Delta variant] is definitely present and spreading. It is starting to appear in other parts of the country [too].”
In Landes, 15 out of 18 communities are now affected, compared to just six last week, when only 30 cases had been identified. Now, “30% of cases [in Landes] are of the Delta variant”, the prefect said.
Mr Couteaud at the ARS said: “We only have partial results so far, but in 99% of cases it’s the Delta variant that is showing up. The Delta variant is increasing, but we are seeing a drop in the number of positive cases in the department. The [Delta] variant is ‘eating’ the others, so to speak.”
He said that 63% of the positive Delta cases were in people aged under 50, and 66% of those testing positive had not been vaccinated.
Two of the three patients with Covid that are currently in intensive care in the department have the Delta variant.
The “plan of action” that was put in place last week, which is based on “the three pillars of test-alert-protect”, will continue to be deployed, and the public is urged to be vaccinated as soon as possible, the prefect said.
A total of 5,000 tests are to be sent to schools in the department this week, after 6,000 were sent last week, academic authorities in Landes said.
50 % de la population des #Landes a reçu sa primo-injection contre la #COVID19 ! Merci à tout le personnel mobilisé— Préfète des Landes (@Prefecture40) June 15, 2021
Mais ne relâchons pas les efforts, continuons à respecter les gestes barrières et à nous faire vacciner pic.twitter.com/PbGl71XGke
Will Delta spread in France as it has in the UK?
France is currently seeing between 50 and 150 new cases of the Delta variant confirmed everyday, which equates to 2-4% of cases, Health Minister Olivier Véran said on June 15, admitting that it was “still only a few”.
In the UK, cases are doubling each week, with more than 7,000 cases now confirmed per day. In contrast, France’s cases are dropping by 40% each week, and have just dipped below the 5,000 mark.
Yet, Mr Véran has called for “caution” in the face of growing cases in France, saying that France could be on the same trajectory as seen in the UK “a few weeks ago”.
In the UK, it took just eight weeks for the Delta variant to go from accounting for 2% of all new confirmed cases, to accounting for 90%.
As a result, the UK has pushed the total relaxation of its Covid restrictions by another four weeks, due to the spread of the variant. All restrictions had been set to be lifted on June 21.
Professor Jean-Stéphane Dhersin, epidemic modeller at research centre the CNRS, told the HuffPost: “In France, we could have ‘two epidemics’. That of the British variant, and in parallel, a small epidemic of the Delta variant, which is progressing rapidly.”
On May 25, the Delta variant was only being detected in 0.5% of tests sequenced in France; less than a month later, this is now 4-10 times more.
Professor Dhersin said: “Emerging viruses follow an exponential curve, meaning that they increase more and more quickly.”
Yet, the researcher said that France will not necessarily follow the same path as the UK.
He said: "The UK and France are two different terrains, and as we don't know exactly what Delta will benefit from, it is impossible to predict how it will behave in France.
“We don't have the same percentage of vaccinated people, we don't have the same vaccines (AstraZeneca is less used in France and favoured in the UK); we don't have the same restrictions, we don't have the same weather.”
But the health minister has said he fears that France could face the same spread.
He said: “Let us not drop our guard. Let us not give access to the Indian variant so that it causes another epidemic wave. We are sequencing much less than the UK. And as Delta is still rare [in France], our data are not very reliable.”
Overall, the consensus is that it is too early to tell for sure if France will follow the same trajectory as the UK, but the health minister is warning of caution.