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COVID-19

EU health warning: ‘High’ risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths

The EU's health agency has warned of a 'high' risk that newly discovered coronavirus variants could increase the strain on healthcare and ultimately cause more deaths due to their infectious nature.

EU health warning: 'High' risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths
A healthcare worker cleans an ambulance outside a hospital in London. Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP

The Stockholm-based European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that “although there is no information that infections with these strains are more severe”, the fact that they would spread more easily means that the impact on “hospitalisations and deaths is assessed as high”.

Just like previously circulating virus variants, this was particularly true for “those in older age groups or with co-morbidities”, the agency added.

The report specifically addressed the two new variants discovered in the UK and in South Africa, both of which show signs of “increased transmissibility”.

More than 3,000 cases of the UK variant have already been reported in the UK and dozens of countries in Europe and around the world, according to the ECDC.

In South Africa, more than 300 cases of another variant have been recorded and three cases of the same variant have been confirmed in Europe, two in the UK and one in Finland, but all three have been connected to people returning from South Africa.

The health agency recommended countries to continue advising citizens “of the need for non-pharmaceutical interventions in accordance with their local epidemiological situation” with a particular focus on “non-essential travel and social activities”.

The ECDC also recommended a number of options for “delaying the introduction and further spread of a new variant of concern”, including targeted sequencing of community cases to “detect early and monitor the incidence of the variant”.

In addition it recommended increased “follow-up and testing” of people linked to areas with higher numbers of the variant and also remind people coming from such areas of the need to “comply with quarantine” and getting tested.

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COVID-19

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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