France investigating new coronavirus variant detected in Brittany

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A new coronavirus variant has been found in the French region of Brittany, the French health ministry said in a statement late Monday, adding that an initial analysis did not show this new variant to be more serious or more transmissible than others.

The health ministry said the new variant had been found in a cluster of eight cases in a hospital centre in Lannion, several of which had not been detected by PCR tests.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are used to detect the presence of an antigen rather than the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies.

Officials said researchers at the Institut Pasteur were investigating whether genetic modifications had resulted in the new variant being more difficult to detect.

“Investigations will take place to determine how this variant reacts to vaccination and to antibodies developed during prior COVID infections,” Brittany’s regional health authority said in a statement.

International health agencies have been alerted to the discovery of the new variant.

The formation of new variants is a natural process as viruses evolve over time in order to survive. At present, only three variants of the novel coronavirus are considered alarming: the so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants.

France's government has resisted calls for a new lockdown in the face of rising cases, with daily infections hovering well above the 20,000-mark.

Its struggling vaccination drive hit a new roadblock on Monday as France joined other European countries in suspending the use of AstraZeneca jabs amid concerns over possible serious side-effects.

>> Covid-19: Why countries are suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations