While traveling in the Grand Est, the Minister of Health Olivier Véran announced on January 14 a protocol aimed at testing “Up to a million children and teachers per month” to screen for Covid-19 and deal with the spread of the British variant in France. Screening that could concern “Children from 6 years old, wherever it makes sense”, as part of maintaining the opening of schools.
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“The idea of testing the children more is excellent”, reacts Christèle Gras-Le Guen, president of the French pediatric society, who sees it as a way to answer several pressing questions: « Does the variant circulate ? Is it more common in children? For the moment, we do not know. » The acceleration of the pace of the tests, which would concern only a part of the 12 million pupils, would make it possible to inform future decisions in school matters, including a possible extension of winter holidays, for the time being rejected by the government.
PCR or antigen test?
“Testing children to find out where the contamination is is a request we made last week », recalls Guislaine David, spokesperson for SNUIPP-FSU, the first first degree union, who wants “Obtain more visibility on asymptomatic cases”, more numerous in children. The representative nevertheless wonders about the methods of implementation and pleads for a strengthening of tracing, in order to “Get out of school quickly with contact cases”. The scientific council has just recommended closing the class from the first proven case, and not after three cases, as is currently the case.
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The strengthening of screening immediately raises the question of the delay to obtain the results: for PCR tests, it is generally necessary to wait 24 hours, but the increase in the number of tests could lengthen this delay and delay decisions, up to, potentially, make them unnecessary. “Reducing the rendering speed is a real issue”, recognizes Christèle Gras-Le Guen. Antigenic tests, with almost instantaneous results, “Could be useful for the campaign”, she notes, even if their reliability is relative (up to 30% false negatives).
Finally, the nasal sample being unpleasant, particularly for children, “We can imagine testing once or twice a year, but not every week”, tempers Christèle Gras-Le Guen, who specifies that the tests will have to be carried out “By expert hands”. The last potential difficulty could be the opposition of the parents, whose consent will have to be obtained, but, according to Guislaine David, “These refusals will be marginal”.
Relative consensus on openness
The other aspect of possible measures concerns the canteens, identified as places of contamination: the reinforcement of the non-mixing of groups, as well as the establishment of packed lunches, are being studied. « I hope you have to understand “planning” and not “closing” canteens », comments Guislaine David, who does not wish « have the midday meal rest on the parents ».
In general, a relative consensus emerges in any case around the opening of establishments: « There is nothing absurd about wanting to keep schools open, even if it is not the choice of our neighbors », assures epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola, who notes a change in the position of the authorities: « The simple fact of giving up the posture “move around, there is nothing to see” already represents progress. “ The French pediatric society also recalled, on January 13, ” the deleterious effects of the first confinement (increase in serious forms of domestic violence, nutritional disorders, adolescent psychiatric pathologies, etc.) ».
Three variants spotted around the world
The so-called “British” variant: better known of the three, this variant appeared in September in the United Kingdom and spotted in France, would be more contagious, between 50% and 70%, logically causing more infected and therefore more serious cases. But good news, the mutations seem a priori sufficiently minimal for the vaccines already available to continue to be effective.
The “South African” variant: first reported December 18 – three contaminations detected in France in early January – it is also more contagious or even more dangerous. A preliminary study, not validated by peers, shows that its mutations could decrease the effectiveness of antibodies – induced by the vaccine or previous contamination.
The “Japanese” variant: Also known as the “Brazilian” variant, it was detected in four people returning from Brazil at Tokyo airport on January 2. Very little reliable information has been disclosed. He shares, among other things, the mutations of the South African version.