France detects three cases of ‘Indian’ variant of Covid-19

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France detected three cases of the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19 currently sweeping India, the health ministry said Friday with a third person testing positive upon arrival from the South Asian nation. The three patients are currently in isolation and contact tracing has been done, the ministry added.

In a statement posted on Twitter, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said the third person to test positive for the Covid-19 variant after arriving from India is currently isolating in a hotel and contact tracing around him had been done.

A first case, involving a woman who travelled to India and is living in southwestern France, was confirmed on Thursday.

The three patients were "well" with none of them suffering from "severe forms” of infection, displaying “little or no symptoms", Benoît Elleboode, head of the health agency for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, told a news conference Friday. All three people are under 55 years old.

Danger of variant must not be underestimated

In an interview with France Info radio, Véran said it was still unclear if available Covid-19 vaccines were effective against the Indian variant, and he added that the danger of this variant must not be underestimated.

The detection of the third case came as French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said vaccinations against Covid-19 will be open to all adults from June 15, regardless of any medical condition.

People over 50 will be able to sign up for a jab from May 15, he added on Twitter, compared to an age limit of 55 currently.

Macron also announced a four-step plan for lifting Covid-19 restrictions starting Monday, May 3. The ban on domestic travel will be lifted starting Monday, but the 7pm curfew will remain in place.

On May 19, non-essential business will be allowed to reopen and the nightly curfew will be pushed from 7pm to 9pm local time. Restaurants and cafés will be able to welcome customers outdoors, with a maximum of six people per table.

Museums, theatres, cinemas and sport facilities will also reopen, with a limit of 800 people indoors and 1,000 outdoors. Private gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned and working from home as much as possible is encouraged.

'Variants of concern'

The B.1.617 variant has been reported in around 17 countries, raising global concerns. It contains two key mutations to the outer "spike" portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, said senior Indian virologist Shahid Jameel.

India on Friday posted another record daily rise in coronavirus cases with 386,452 new infections, while deaths from Covid-19 jumped by 3,498 over the last 24 hours, according to Indian health ministry data.

Experts however warn the real figures in the world’s second-most populous country, with a population of 1.3 billion, are much higher than the official data.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.

The WHO has described it as a "variant of interest", suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity.

Other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, have been categorised as "variants of concern," a higher threat level.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)