a new cluster of the English variant in France

Eight positive cases in Marseille are linked to the new strain, which is more contagious and carries several mutations.

The dreaded English variant of the coronavirus, more contagious than the other strains that were already circulating, caused a first cluster of cases in Marseille. The alert was given by the discovery of a positive Covid case on December 31 in a French family of 5 living in the United Kingdom and coming to Marseille for the holidays.

Out of 45 contact cases, 23 were subsequently tested positive. A considerable cluster, which is even more worrying when we know that the British variant was then detected, on January 9, in the sample of the first positive case by the IHU Mediterranean, then, the next day, in those of 7 other people. These 7 additional cases were announced Sunday by Michèle Rubirola, the former mayor of Marseille who has now become the first deputy in charge of health.

A massive screening operation also took place on Saturday in Bagneux, near Paris, where a school facilitator was detected positive for the variant. She worked in two establishments in the town before Christmas and then during the school holidays, but has neither traveled to the UK nor been in contact with anyone who had been there.

After its discovery in England at the end of September, the variant of the virus, called B.1.1.7 by scientists, is now worrying all of Europe, where its detection is starting to be more and more frequent. Epidemiologists blame it for the very strong start of the epidemic in the United Kingdom, where it became dominant over other strains in less than two months. Since the start of the year, the situation has forced England, Scotland and Ireland to put in place very strict lockdowns, with schools closed, in an attempt to regain control of the situation.

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The new variant has only been actively researched in France for a few days, with a long delay in Great Britain, which has had a systematic surveillance program for coronavirus mutations for several months. In our country, the alert is currently based on a particular type of PCR test, by the American Thermo Fisher, which targets three parts of the genetic code of the virus. However, one of the targets is one of the many mutations of the English variant. In this way, when a Thermo Fisher test gives two positive results and one negative, the virus can be suspected to be an English variant.

The method is practical, but not 100% reliable, because it identifies only one of the 17 new mutations of the B.1.1.7 variant. The only way to identify it with certainty remains the sequencing of all of its genetic code, its genome, an operation which requires sequencing machines, and which can only be carried out to date in a few centers, including ‘IHU of Marseille.

“Now every minute counts”

In the Bouches-du-Rhône, the epidemic did not wait for the arrival of the English variant to worsen. The department already knew a very strong circulation of the virus, with a restart of the increase in the number of positive cases since the beginning of December. The weekly incidence rate – number of positive cases over 7 days per 100,000 inhabitants – is now 231, which is more than the average level in France, which is 159. The deterioration of the situation has prompted the authorities to place the Bouches-du-Rhône among the 8 additional departments subject to an advanced curfew at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, instead of 8 p.m. in the rest of the country. A decision taken before the discovery of the English variant.

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The mayor of Marseille, Benoît Payan, nevertheless insisted on the danger posed by the new strain from England. The viral situation is “Disturbing”, he admitted on Sunday. Before emphasizing: “Now every minute counts to stem the spread of the English strain. We must react immediately, we want us to get out of the usual patterns of the crisis and do everything to trace, test and isolate urgently all potential carriers of the British strain. “

The Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, reaffirmed Sunday on Europe 1 “Do everything possible to prevent the spread of this variant”. “I don’t want us to live” the same situation “catastrophic” than in England, he insisted.

A massive screening took place on Saturday in Bagneux, near Paris, where a school leader was detected positive for the variant.

To see also – Benoît Payan deplores an “extremely worrying” viral situation in Marseille

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