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VACCINE

What is the ‘Bordeaux variant’ of Covid and should France be worried?

Extra testing and vaccination centres have been set up in south west France after the discovery of a 'worrying' variant of the Covid virus. Here's what we know about it.

What is the 'Bordeaux variant' of Covid and should France be worried?
Extra vaccines have been sent to the district where the cluster occurred. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

What happened?

A cluster of around 50 people in the Bacalan neighbourhood of Bordeaux in south west France have tested positive for a variant of the virus described as “very rare” by the regional health authority (ARS).

According to local health authorities the cases come from two different “chains of transmission” and affect the Bacalan neighbourhood, plus other districts of Bordeaux and several nearby communes.

It has been dubbed the ‘Bordeaux variant’ by French media.

Is this a new variant?

Not entirely. According to Professor Patrick Dehail, scientific and medical adviser to the Gironde ARS, it is the variant anglais (English variant, known in the UK as the Kent variant) with a mutation.

It has been identified before, but this is the first time it has been recorded as creating such a large cluster.

The variant has been officially designated as a ‘variant of concern’ along with the Indian variant.

Around 80 percent of all cases in France are now of the variant anglais, which is more contagious than the original strain of Covid, but which is not resistant to any of the Covid vaccines currently in use.

Is the Bordeaux variant more dangerous?

The health authorities are naturally cautious, but at present there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it is any more of a concern than the other strains of the virus.

Many of the people who tested positive are pupils of a local school and their parents and according to Professor Dehail they presented “the usual symptoms, or no symptoms”.

None of the cluster cases have been hospitalised.

Importantly, there is no evidence that vaccines do not work on this strain.

Benoit Elleboode, director of the ARS, told France Info: “Elements indicate that this variant is not resistant to vaccination, since the older people (…) do not seem to have been infected by this variant.”

What is being done to contain it?

Mass screening is already being done in the area to quickly identify anyone who is part of the cluster, and vaccinations will also be stepped up.

An extra 19,000 vaccine doses have been sent to the Bacalan neighbourhood, and vaccines will be open to everyone, one week ahead of the May 31st date when France opens up vaccine appointments to all over 18s.

There are already two vaccine centres nearby, which will get extra doses, and a new centre will be set up in Bacalan on Wednesday. Seventeen local pharmacies will also receive extra doses of the Moderna vaccine and authorities hope to offer vaccines to all of the 8,000 people living in Bacalan.

The school that seems to be at the centre of the outbreak has been closed, but will reopen after a seven-day break.

Warning

The discovery of the cluster comes just days after France entered phase two of its reopening plan, which saw café, bar and restaurant terraces reopening for the first time in six months, to general rejoicing, and the curfew move back to 9pm.

Plenty of restrictions remain in place, however, and Bordeaux mayor Pierre Hurmic has called on people not to forget to take precautions.

“This is a warning!” he said, while on a visit to the new testing centre in Bacalan.

“There is euphoria since Wednesday [the date of reopening] and I share it, but we must not let our guard down.”

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COVID-19

Macron demands France take ‘protective measures’ against Covid rise in China

French President Emmanuel Macron has asked his government to take "protective measures" as China sees an explosion of Covid-19 cases. The EU was also set to meet on Thursday to discuss measures.

Macron demands France take 'protective measures' against Covid rise in China

Macron has made it clear he is following developments in China very closely and has asked his government to put in place appropriate measures.

Those measures were yet to be announced on Thursday morning but the French government could follow the path of Italy and impose all travellers from China to provide a negative Covid-19 test before arriving in the country.

The French government said it was “ready to study all the useful measures that could be implemented in conjunction with France’s European partners and within the legal framework that exists today”.

On August 1, 2022 France adopted new rules to combat Covid-19 after scrapping its state of emergency. The text gave the government the right – until January 31st 2023 – to require travellers aged 12 and over to present a negative Covid-19 test prior to entering the territory in the event of a “new variant likely to constitute a serious health threat.” 

In Brussels the European Commission was to hold a meeting on Thursday to “discuss possible measures for a coordinated approach” by EU states in response to the explosion of Covid-19 cases in China.

Italy said on Wednesday it was reinstating mandatory coronavirus tests for arrivals from China following an explosion in cases there, with Milan’s Malpensa airport finding around half of all passengers tested were positive.

Coronavirus infections have surged in China as it unwinds tight controls that had torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.

China on Monday scrapped quarantine for inbound travellers from January 8th onwards, dismantling the last remaining piece of its stringent zero-Covid policy and ending some of the world’s harshest border restrictions.

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