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What is the risk to the UK from Covid variants in France?
The growing wave of coronavirus infections in Europe has been largely driven by the arrival of the more transmissible Kent variant. In essence, countries such as France and Germany are facing the situation Britain endured at the end of last year: within a few months of the Kent variant emerging in September it had torn across the UK and become dominant. Its increased transmissibility, and probable greater lethality, added to the death toll in Britain’s second wave. The variant is now spreading in Europe and other parts of the world.
The lockdown in Britain has driven cases down more than tenfold since January, but international travel poses a clear risk of bringing in fresh cases. Beyond seeding new outbreaks, as happened last spring when passengers from France and Spain brought thousands of cases into the UK, there is the extra risk of travellers bringing in variants that are partially resistant to vaccines. Variants first spotted in South Africa and Brazil are both somewhat resistant to vaccines, and while cases have already reached Britain, outbreaks here are thought to be under control thanks to surge testing and quarantine. The danger is that more cases of resistant virus come into the country and drive a rise in cases that does not spare those vaccinated. Recent studies have found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are less effective against the South African variant.
It is not only imports that Britain needs to prevent. Cases are still high in Britain and higher on the continent, and the more virus that is around, the more opportunities it has to evolve into more resistant forms. Newly resistant variants could crop up in the UK, Europe or elsewhere at any time.
What are the numbers?
While Britain has nearly 400 known cases of the South African variant, it accounts for up to 10% of cases in parts of Europe. In France, where three-quarters of infections are now the Kent variant, the South African and Brazilian variants combined make up 4.8% of new daily infections, according to CovidTracker, which uses government data. Most concerning is Moselle in the north-east, where more than a third of new daily cases are either the South African or Brazilian variants. In March the area was declared high-risk when the two variants made up 45% of new cases. Since then the incidence has fallen to 36.5%. In three neighbouring départements in the north-east – Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse and Vosges – the two variants account for 16.6%, 15.5% and 18.6% of new daily cases respectively.
The variants account for more than 10% of new daily cases in only five other French départements: Haut-Rhin (10.8%) and Doubs (12.6%) in the east, Manche in the north-west (10.7%), Vendée on the western coast (11.2%) and the Dordogne (21.2%). In all the country’s remaining départements, they make up fewer than 10% of daily cases, and fewer than 5% in many.
“We are in a very precarious situation with a significant proportion of the adult population unvaccinated and the continued threat of more threatening virus variants popping up in different parts of the country as well as being imported from overseas,” said Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology at Warwick medical school, the University of Warwick. “If we do find ourselves in a situation with signs of a third wave starting in the UK, we may need to revisit the timetable for easing out of lockdown.”
What can the UK government do?
Ministers can add to the “red list” of countries from which most travel to the UK is banned, and require travellers from those places to quarantine in a hotel when they arrive here. But some senior scientists believe all incoming travellers to the UK should not only quarantine in hotels on arrival, but remain in their rooms to prevent the virus spreading within hotels. “If you look at other countries, people are not allowed to leave their hotel room for two weeks,” said Prof Kamlesh Khunti, of the University of Leicester and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and Independent Sage. “If we have strict policies like that, it will certainly make people think twice about travelling. You don’t want doom and gloom, but it is too risky. We’ve suffered enough.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Why is UK considering adding France to travel ban ‘red list’? | Politics