New variants of Covid-19 now make up around 10% of positive daily recorded cases of Covid-19 in France, Health Minister Olivier Véran has said.
“We have gone from 500 patients per day with these variants at the beginning of January to more than 2,000 patients per day with these variants at present. This is mainly the British variant but also very minimally the South African variant,” he said during a press conference on Thursday (January 28).
France is recording an average of just over 20,000 positive cases of Covid-19 per day.
Journalist and doctor Damien Mascret told Franceinfo that stricter measures will need to be taken to stem the spread of variants.
“In the UK, at the end of November, they were about where we are today, i.e. 10% variant. Then, two weeks later, they had doubled the cases. If the same thing happens in France, that means we'll go to 40,000 cases a day,” he said.
Mr Véran has said that the government is considering introducing stricter measures, including a very tight lockdown, in response to the Covid-19 situation in France. He cited the threat of new variants as one reason that the current curfew, in place from 18:00 to 06:00, is not sufficient.
#COVID19 | Je suis revenu cet après-midi sur la situation sanitaire fragile, avec un virus qui circule à un niveau élevé. Le couvre-feu a permis de ralentir la progression de l'épidémie mais ne suffit pas aujourd'hui à faire reculer le virus. pic.twitter.com/VEZZu0lTs0— Olivier Véran (@olivierveran) January 28, 2021
Are Covid vaccines effective against new strains?
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 yesterday.
He said that for the British variant (20I/501Y.V1), current Covid vaccines are “most likely” still effective.
“The data is rather reassuring,” he said.
As for the South African variant (20H/501Y.V2), of which 40 cases have officially been recorded in France currently, the data is much more limited.
“Its level of transmission is a little higher than the English variant,” Prof Delfraissy said, adding that current vaccines may not work against it.
“For the vaccine, the data is a bit 'glass half full or half empty',” he said.
“Some suggest that there is neutralisation by the serums, other data show that there is a loss of sensitivity to the vaccine of up to 40%.”
He said that vaccines also appear to have less of an effect on the Brazilian variant (20J/501Y.V3). No cases of this variant have yet been identified in France.
A Marseille variant?
Professor Didier Raoult, the director of the university-hospital institute IHU Méditerranée Infection, has, alongside other researchers, published a report on a new variant detected in Marseille that they say should be considered “a major variant of Sars-Cov2”.
Notre premier article portant sur de nouveaux variants a été mis en ligne dès le 7 septembre en preprint sur notre site : https://t.co/mESVeKNuy4— Didier Raoult (@raoult_didier) January 28, 2021
Nous mettons aujourd'hui en ligne nos données concernant le variant Marseille 4 : https://t.co/DED324dy8g pic.twitter.com/KDCqauAbn4
Prof Raoult is a controversial figure as he gained worldwide attention for promoting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment against Covid-19, despite evidence that it does not work.
The researchers at IHU Méditerranée Infection note that during the second epidemic wave of Covid-19 that broke out last summer in Marseille, they discovered a variant they have named Marseille 4.
The report states that it is responsible for the epidemic that began in August and is still spreading today. It notes also that those who had previously had Covid-19 were not immune to the Marseille 4 strain.