A case of the new Covid variant - Pirola - has now been reported in eastern France, prompting one expert to remind people of the importance of isolation in case of infection.
Health authority Santé publique France (SPF) confirmed the case had been identified in Grand Est, making it the first report of the new Pirola (BA.2.86) variant in the country.
SPF said: “As part of the genomic surveillance led by Santé publique France with the Centre national de référence Virus des Infections Respiratoires…a case of the BA.2.86 variant was detected in the Grand-Est region, based on samples taken during the weekly Flash survey on August 21.”
The authority has now launched an investigation to “collect epidemiological information so that we can document these first cases”.
Pirola, a strain of the variant Omicron, has been classified as a ‘variant under surveillance’ by the World Health Organization “due to the very large number (more than 30) mutations of the Spike gene that it has”.
The ‘spike’ element of the virus refers to the way in which the virus ‘unlocks’ cells to infect them. These mutations make the virus more contagious, and could mean this variant may be more effective at avoiding current vaccination immunity.
The WHO added: “The potential impact of the BA.2.86 mutations is currently unknown and is being carefully assessed.”
It continues to recommend that member nations - including France - continue to monitor, sequence and notify the relevant authorities of infections, to obtain an accurate view of the pandemic.
In light of the new case - and rising infections of the variant Eris - President of the Comité de veille et d'anticipation des risques sanitaires (Covars), Brigitte Autran, recently reminded the public of the importance of self-isolation in case of infection.
She told newspaper Libération that “the priority is to understand the new variant and prepare the vaccination campaign”. She said that the campaign would aim to target both the recent variant Eris, and the new Pirola strain.
France is to launch a new booster campaign for Covid vaccinations for people at high risk of serious illness in October, alongside the seasonal flu vaccination campaign.
Before arriving in France, Pirola had previously been reported in the US, Denmark, Israel, the UK, and Spain.
So far, however, one expert has appeared optimistic.
François Balloux, chair of Bioinformatics at University College London, recently told the HuffPost: “We don't expect to see comparable levels of serious illness and death to what we saw earlier in the pandemic when the Alpha, Delta or Omicron variants spread.”