France has confirmed the first case of a new coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain, French news agency AFP reported.
The news of a recently identified and possibly more contagious variant of the coronavirus discovered in the United Kingdom has raised alarm across the world, leading to lockdown in parts of England and travel restrictions imposed by several countries, including India.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock cautioned that the variant was ‘out of control’, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new variant ‘may be up to 70 percent more transmissible’.
The first French case – found in a citizen who arrived from London on 19 December – is asymptomatic and is self-isolating at home in Tours in central France, the ministry said late Friday. According to the report, he was tested at a hospital on December 21, and later found positive for the strain.
Health authorities have carried out contact-tracing for the health professionals taking care of the patient, the ministry said in a statement. Any of their contacts that were seen as vulnerable would similarly be isolated, it said.
In addition to the first case, several other positive samples that "may suggest the VOC 202012/01 variant are being sequenced" by the specialist laboratories of the national Pasteur Institute, the statement by the French ministry added.
Cases of the new variant have also been confirmed in Denmark, Italy, Gibraltar, the Netherlands and Australia.
Following the snap 48-hour ban this week, France had reopened its borders to the UK – partly to allow French citizens to return home, as well as to relieve the massive build-up of freight goods – but had instituted a testing policy.
France's interior ministry said on Thursday that limits on travel from the UK will continue "until at least 6 January".
The news of the new variant is still emerging, but so far, experts believe that the regular COVID vaccines would still work - because vaccines produce a broad antibody response to the virus and are expected to work on most mutations, as FIT had earlier explained.
Moreover, there is no evidence so far that the new variant increases risk of disease severity, hospitalisation or death - even though it may be more transmissible.
A report by The Guardian quotes scientists who have told the local media, “At this stage, there is no clear evidence of the new variant being associated with more severe disease or worse outcomes but clinicians are undertaking more studies to establish if this new variant does change the course of the disease.”
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