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Covid-19: Study shows the current situation of variants in France

The Delta variant is now the majority in France, new figure show. It comes as case numbers retreat across the country, and mask restrictions are lifted for primary schools in 47 departments

A doctor tests a blood tube from a patient. The tube is labelled “Delta variant”.

New research shows that the Delta variant is majority in France, even as case numbers fall Pic: angellodeco / Shutterstock

A new study has been carried out into Covid variants circulating in France and has found the Delta variant is now the most widespread, according to figures from an international database compiled by France, the UK, and others.

The international database Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) provides information on the circulation of variants in several countries, including France. 

The database uses sequencing of PCR samples of Covid tests, which enables the variant of the test (Delta or otherwise) to be identified, as reported in Le Monde

The new dominance of the Delta variant comes as Covid case numbers in the country are at relatively positive levels in general.

While figures from October 1 show that the incidence rate is increasing in 14 French departments, the numbers concerned are still relatively low. In Cantal, where the incidence rate has risen by 44% in one week, the rate is still at 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Among the departments that have seen an increase in cases this past week, Jura has the highest incidence rate, at 75 cases per 100,000. 

But in six out of the 14 departments, the incidence rate is below the alert threshold of 50. This rate will allow primary school children to remove their masks at school from today (Monday, October 4). 

In all, health restrictions for primary school children will be eased in 47 departments. 

The departments in which school mask restrictions are being lifted are: 

Aisne, Allier, Ardennes, Aveyron, Calvados, Cantal, Charente-Maritime, Corrèze, Côte-d’Or, Côtes-d’Armor, Creuse, Deux-Sèvres, Dordogne, Eure, Finistère, Gers, Haute-Loire, Haute-Marne, Haute-Saône, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Isère, Landes, Loir-et-Cher, Loire, Loire-Atlantique, Loiret, Lozère, Maine-et-Loire, Manche, Marne, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Morbihan, Nièvre, Orne, Pas-de-Calais, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Somme, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne, Vendée, Vienne, Vosges, and Yonne. 

Masks remain mandatory for all children over age 11, and for teachers.

Similarly, schools will no longer require an entire class to close if a single case of Covid is identified among pupils, and positive pupils will instead be required to isolate (however, if the positive case is the teacher, the class will close).

Ten more departments are also reducing restrictions and testing a new health protocol. This includes dropping the capacity limit of 75% for public places, such as in sports halls. 

These 10 departments are Aisne, Ariège, Côte-d’Or, Landes, Manche, Morbihan, Moselle, Rhône, Val-d’Oise, and Var.

Covid in autumn: ‘All bets are off’

Some departments are faring less well, suggesting that Covid is not yet ‘over’. 

The incident rate in Bouches-du-Rhône is at a still-high 133 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data from Santé publique France

As a result, the government has said that it could extend the use of the health pass until the summer of 2022, especially as researchers from the Institut Pasteur have warned that the epidemic could restart as colder winter temperatures set in.

Case numbers in other countries, including the UK, suggest that Covid may not yet be on the retreat.

Daniel le Breton, the creator of Covid situation website CovidTracker, wrote on September 27: “Just because the UK has vaccinated older people better doesn't mean it is in an enviable situation. [It has had] a second rebound since June. 

“The third wave is not over in the UK, with around 8,000 deaths, compared to 5,300 in France, which is "in a downward phase".’

“Is this the end of the variants? We don't know, but they are becoming rarer, so there is hope. [But we know that] the virus takes great pleasure in demolishing all predictions about it...nothing is guaranteed. 

“For the potential autumn crisis, all bets are off.”

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