New variants of Covid-19, mainly the UK variant, now make up around 14% of positive cases in France, a preliminary “flash” study carried out between January 26 and 27 has found.
The study was organised by the Centre National de Référence des Virus des Infections Respiratoires and Santé publique France. It involves scientists taking the PCR test samples from a number of patients and doing what is called “genetic sequencing” in order to determine if the virus has mutated.
Professor Bruno Lina, a virologist and member of the Conseil Scientifique who led the flash study, said that the spread of variants across France appeared to be steady.
"We are beginning to have an increase in the circulation of variants but it is not explosive, it is linear and continuous,” he told BFMTV.
An initial flash study carried out between January 7 and 8 found that variants made up only 3.3% of positive Covid-19 cases. This means the number of cases of variants is increasing at a rate of around 60% per week.
Prof Lina said that the 14% figure is just a preliminary estimate and that the full results of the second flash study will be published later today (February 4).
He said that there are regional disparities, with Covid-19 variants far more concentrated in the Île-de-France region.
Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the Conseil Scientifique that advises the government on Covid-19 matters, said that variants are “natural” and he expects there will be others.
“Some speak of an epidemic within the epidemic, others of new pandemics. I believe that this is natural. There will be other variants. And in terms of a vaccination, we must be very flexible in the construction of vaccines,” he said in a Covid update to French MPs on January 28.
He said that for the UK variant (20I/501Y.V1), current Covid vaccines are “most likely” still effective.
“The data is rather reassuring,” he said.
He said that data on the South Africa variant, of which there are far fewer confirmed cases in France, is much more limited.
David Lepoittevin, director of the vaccines division at the French subsidiary of the American laboratory Pfizer, said that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective against the UK and South Africa variants.
“For the time being, the level of efficiency is almost identical. On the English variant, on the South African variant, our vaccine maintains its effectiveness,” he said in an interview with Franceinfo.
Prime Minister Jean Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran will hold a press conference this evening at 18:00 to speak about the Covid-19 situation in France.