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New Covid-19 UK variant: France steps up UK-France testing

The French health minister has said that everyone who returns to France from the UK must now be tested for the new Covid-19 variant

There are around “a dozen” cases of the “worrying” new UK Covid-19 variant in France, and everyone who returns to France from the UK must now be tested for it as a result, the health minister has said.

The new variant - which was initially known as B117 and is now officially named VOC 202012/01 - was first identified in the UK. The first cases of it were recorded in France at the end of December 2020.

Read more: First case of new Covid-19 variant detected in France

Now, Health Minister Olivier Véran has said that “around a dozen suspected or confirmed cases” of the variant had been recorded in France so far, and that tests would be required for people returning to France from the UK.

Speaking to radio channel RTL today, he said: “At this stage, we have around a dozen suspected or confirmed cases of the UK variant. It is thankfully not that many, touch wood.”

He continued: “It is a variant that is worrying us, and for which we have deployed significant logistical and diagnostic means. We are keeping a very close eye [on the situation]. Everyone who comes back to France from the UK must have been tested.”

The minister did not specify details of exactly how this would work - whether tests would also be done in France, or if passengers would be required to show proof of a negative test before travelling from the UK.

RTL said that travellers on Eurostar were being required to show a negative test result from within 72 hours of travelling before they were allowed to board trains from the UK to France. Borders are still open, with some restrictions.


Vaccine effectiveness

Although early data suggests that the new variant is 60% more contagious than the first, the minister said that the current Covid-19 vaccines would still work against it.

He said: “This is a key question. At this stage, scientists say that there are few risks that the vaccines will be less effective [against the new UK variant]. Studies are being done, and there are good reasons to believe that it will maintain its effectiveness.”

In response to the new variant, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new nationwide lockdown in England yesterday (Monday January 4), following Northern Ireland and Wales, which had already imposed the measure soon after Christmas.

The increased contagion of the new variant is said to be behind a spike in cases in the UK, and additional pressure on hospitals. It has since been detected in tens of countries around the world.

Another new variant of the virus - dubbed E484K - has also been identified in South Africa.

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