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Covid France: Stricter rules to halt spread of new variants

New rules include more testing, longer self-isolation times, and stricter school closures in a bid to stop the spread of the new South African and Brazilian variants

France is tightening rules against the risks of South African and Brazilian variants of Covid-19, as a different, less widespread, strain is found in northern France, and the WHO investigates the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Jérôme Salomon, the director general of health (DGS) at la Direction générale de la Santé, confirmed the new rules on Sunday February 7.

The new restrictions are designed to help slow the spread of the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus specifically.

In a statement, the DGS said: “Given the speed of the spread of the [South African and Brazilian] variants in France, extra measures have been put in place.”

It said that further “specific strengthening” of measures is expected for the “[South African] variant 20H/501Y.V2 and [Brazilian] variant 20J/501Y.V3 [which are] today in the minority” but, it said, could cause problems with immunity and vaccinations.

New test rules

Now all positive tests, either antigen or PCR, must be followed up with a RT-PCR test within 36 hours.

Professor Salomon, France's most senior health civil servant, said: “[Rapid antigen tests] still have their place in the fight strategy against the epidemic” but any positive result must be confirmed by an RT-PCR nasal swab test.

This additional test allows the authorities to check if the new case is a variant, and if so, which one.

Increased self-isolation

People confirmed to have a case of the South African or Brazilian variant of the virus must now isolate for 10 days, rather than the seven previously recommended for positive cases.

Professor Salomon said: “Because of the higher contagion of these two variants, a test must also be done at the end of self-isolation for people who may be carrying [the virus].”

If this test comes back positive, the individual must self-isolate for a further seven days from that point.

New school rules

Classes will close automatically if one pupil tests positive with a variant, and also if one pupil is named as a contact of a parent or family member who is confirmed with one of the variants.

The same applies to teachers and staff.

Contact testing

If you came into contact with someone later identified with the South African or Brazilian variants, you too should be tested on the day the case is confirmed, or as soon as possible after.

If the result comes back positive, an RT-PCR test must be done to confirm and identify the presence of a variant.

At-risk confirmed contact cases will be eligible for at-home care, including a visit from a nurse, plus the “systematic offer of a place to isolate” if need be, the DGS said.


New care home variant

These new measures come as 27 residents of an elderly care home in Aisne, Hauts-de-France, have died from what is suspected to be a highly-contagious and new mutation of the virus.

In a few weeks, 107 of the 111 residents have been affected by the virus, with 27 dead. Of the 70 staff, 57 have tested positive.

The strain is thought to be a new mutation of the existing known variants. Of the 30 samples taken from the care home, 25 showed evidence of a new strain, different again from the UK, South-African or Brazilian variants.

Minister for Personal Independence Brigitte Bourguignon said that the situation was being managed. She said: “The means are available. There was also pressure to bring in more staff to help, which we have. The Red Cross and home-care staff have stepped in.”

Investigations are now underway to determine the suspected origin of this new strain.

Vaccine effectiveness

The emergence of this little-seen variant comes amid fears that some vaccines may not be as effective against the recently identified South African and Brazilian strains.

The World Health Organisation has today begun examining the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to judge its effectiveness in older people and against the South-African variant.

South Africa has now suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in its campaign after a study suggested that it offered “limited” effectiveness against the country’s new variant.

According to initial results from the study, the vaccine is only 22% effective against moderate forms of the South African variant. No results are yet available for severe forms.

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