Eris: New, more contagious variant sparks Covid escalation in France

One academic has warned the new variant and declining immunity could lead to a ‘resumption of the epidemic'

Someone holding a positive Covid lateral flow test in their hand
An estimated 35% of new Covid cases in France are of the Eris variant
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A new Covid variant, dubbed Eris, is causing infection levels to rise in France with 35% of new cases now estimated to be this type.

Infections in France are rising, show figures from the database GISAID, mainly due to the emergence of Eris, also called EG.5.

Recently added to the World Health Organization’s ‘variants under monitoring’ list, it is now the most common strain in France

Clusters of cases were identified earlier this month, especially during a festival in Bayonne, where pharmacies recorded a spike in sales of Covid-19 tests.

The 35% figure is an estimate, and should be taken with “precaution”, said Mircea Sofonea, associate professor at the University of Montpellier. He said that the current samples show “sampling bias” because they are based on “a limited number of positive tests, which are no longer representative of infections nationwide”.

Yet, in its most recent update (August 2), health authority Santé publique France said it had seen a “rise in the number of admissions to A&E” for suspected Covid-19 infections. This was true “among all ages, especially adults”. Admissions rose by 26% (to 149 admissions) compared to the week before.

The estimated number of Eris infections in France tallies with the levels currently seen in other countries, including the US and the UK.

“This new variant seems to be gaining ground in several European countries, including France, but also in the USA and Asia,” Professor Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist and Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told

What is Eris?

Eris is a variant of the Omicron group and spreads more easily than previous variants.

“It is a sub-variant of the XBB line [variants of Omicron detected in France between January and April 2023], which has had two successive mutations,” said Professor Sofonea. “[Eris] is more contagious and better at escaping the immune system response.”

Read more: Covid-19 variant Omicron XBB becomes most prevalent in France

Professor Flahault said: “Every time a new variant emerges, it’s because it is more contagious. That’s the case with Eris.”

The variant causes the same symptoms as other Covid-19 infections, including a dry cough, high fever, a tight chest, and sometimes a runny nose.

Professor Sofonea said Eris is not the only cause of rising cases. Other factors include the decreased immunity of the population, because vaccines and previous infections lose their protective effect over time.

“This context could lead to a resumption of the epidemic,” Professor Sofonea said.

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