Concern grows over spread of Covid variants in south west France

In the past few days, the south west France has been under close scrutiny by French health authorities as Covid cases have risen in several départements an an increasing number of 'clusters' of Covid variants have been reported.

Concern grows over spread of Covid variants in south west France
The variatnts are circulating strongly among young people, who are less likely to be vaccinated. Photo: Pascal Pochard Casablanca/AFP

Since June 2nd 31 cases of the newly-renamed Delta variant first identified in India have reported in approximately 15 clusters in the département of Landes.

In the wider Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, “20 other clusters have been identified,” according to the regional health agency ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine. 

“The situation is not the same as in the UK, the epidemic isn’t spreading but there are clusters,” health minister Olivier Véran said on BFM TV. Adding that “there was no major worry for the moment”. 

But epidemiologists have expressed more concerns. 

“With restaurants and bars reopening and more people gathering on Wednesday, the south west may become an area, if not at risk, where we ought to be particularly careful,” epidemiologist at the EHESP School of Public Health in Rennes, Jonathan Roux told Le Parisien. 

Wednesday, June 9th marks phase 3 of France’s gradual reopening from health restrictions, with changes such as bars and restaurants reopening indoor spaces and the curfew moving back to 11pm. 

“There is a chance that the Delta variant spreads rapidly if we are not careful enough,” added Roux.

While daily case numbers are falling in the rest of the country, in Nouvelle-Aquitaine the R-number is hovering around one. An R number of 1 or above means that case numbers will continue to rise.

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal,speaking in a press conference on June 2nd, also expressed concern about the situation in areas of the south west such as Landes, Charente-Maritime, Lot-et-Garonne, and especially Pyrénées-Atlantiques, where the R-number increased by 80 percent in a week. 

Low case numbers

However, although the rise seems high, overall case numbers remain low.

The incidence rate for Nouvelle-Aquitaine is 33.9 new cases per 100,000 people, well below the French average of 78.3 and the positivity rate for tests is just two percent. Overall, the intensive care occupancy rate is 29 percent for the region, against a French average of 50 percent.

“The rate of incidence was low in these areas, so the rise seems more impressive,” added Roux. 

He added that another reason for the rise could be that, during the first and second waves, the south west typically had fewer Covid cases than other areas in France.

“As we’ve been less affected until now, people have less immunity.

Another reason is that younger people – who are less likely to be vaccinated – have seen an increase in cases.

“The rate of incidence is very high among young people. There are clusters in schools,” epidemiologist from health authority Santé publique France (SPF), Dr Laurent Filleul, told the HuffPost. 


In order to track the Delta variant and prevent its spread, laboratories are implementing “retro-tracing,” meaning they are tracing not only the “contact” person, but those who infected that person.

This is a lengthy process which goes back to 14 days before the infection, but it’s an effective way to limit the spread of the epidemic. 

“If we don’t manage to slow the variant, local restrictive measures might be applied,” Roux added.

France’s four-step reopening plan contains provisions to delay reopening, or reimpose measures, at a local level in areas where the health situation is causing concern.

However there is no suggestion at this stage that stage 3 – the reopening of indoor spaces for bars and restaurants and pushing back curfew to 11pm – will be delayed from Wednesday in the south west. 

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