At least 80 cases of the Indian variant have been identified in France, the latest figures from Santé publique France released on May 20 show.
An update on the official figures is expected later today or tomorrow.
The health body said it had found 38 instances of at least one case of the variant covering nine different regions – equivalent to 80 individual cases in total.
Of these, 15 cases were found in Ile-de-France. Further cases were detected in the Bouches-du-Rhone and Lot-et-Garonne departments.
A link to India was found in all cases, except one traveller who was returning from Nepal and three family clusters.
However, experts say that the number of cases of the Indian variant in France is likely to be higher than the official figures show.
Not all people who contract Covid are tested, and of the tests that are done only half of positive results in France are screened to identify the variant.
How does it compare to other variants?
Figures from CovidTracker from May 26 show that the UK variant accounts for the vast majority (77.6%) of all cases in France.
By comparison, the Indian variant is circulating “at a very low level” in France, former French health director Professor Didier Houssin told BFMTV yesterday.
But, he said, the variant is “more contagious” than other strains of the virus.
He said: “There are no elements to suggest that the Indian variant is more dangerous, but as it is more contagious there will be more sick people, and therefore the risk of serious consequences.”
UK figures show 160% rise in variant cases in seven days
Figures from the UK indicate how contagious the variant might be.
There have currently been more than 5,000 cases of the Indian variant – also called B.1.617.2 – in the UK, largely concentrated in the north west and London.
On May 21, the British Medical Journal reported that cases of the variant rose by 160% in the previous seven days. Government advisory body SAGE has said the Indian variant could be up to 50% more contagious than the UK variant.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said that he expects the Indian variant to become the dominant strain in the UK.
New travel rules in France state that from May 31 tourism from the UK is banned and all visitors arriving for an essential reason must complete an “obligatory” quarantine for seven days due to the spread of the Indian variant.
Vaccines offer partial protection
A study from Public Health England released on May 22 has shown that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer high levels of protection against the Indian variant after two doses.
According to the study, Pfizer is 88% effective against the Indian variant, compared with 93% against the UK variant, two weeks after a second dose has been given.
AstraZeneca is 60% effective against the Indian variant and 66% against the UK variant, in the same time frame.
But, the rate of protection falls dramatically for people who have only had one dose, with both vaccines offering 33% immunity against the Indian variant three weeks after injection, compared with 50% for the UK variant.
Variant could be more dangerous for under 21s
There are also concerns that the variant could pose a heightened risk to young people.
Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson said at a briefing organised by the Science Media Centre in Germany, on May 26, that there were “signals” that people under 21 were more likely to be infected with the Indian variant.
He said: “There’s a hint in the data that people under 21 are slightly more likely to be infected with this variant compared with other variants in recent weeks in the UK.”
The professor could not say whether this was due to a development in the mutation of the virus making young people more susceptible, or because the virus happened to be spreading in schools and colleges in which more young people were present.