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Covid-19: the spread of the Indian variant in the United Kingdom worries the British and European authorities


DECRYPTION – Responsible for the epidemic outbreak in India, the Indian variant is emerging in Europe, raising the specter of a fourth wave.

The UK thought it was out of business. On April 5, Boris Johnson celebrated with his people the reopening of the terraces with a pint of beer in hand. Proudly arguing for a drum-beating vaccination campaign to vaccinate 69% of the population with a first dose, the British Prime Minister displays his strategy as an example on the European continent. An idyll announced, dreamed then shattered by the surprise arrival of the Indian variant.

Blamed as responsible for the epidemic outbreak in India, leaving the country bruised with 250,000 dead, the double mutation was classified as “worrying” by the WHO this week. It has been detected in 44 countries including France, where 24 clusters were declared by Public Health France in its last report on May 13. But the measures taken by all the countries are now proving insufficient to contain its spread. In Europe, the United Kingdom leads with more than 1,300 cases from this detected mutation. A study conducted by Imperial College London reveals its presence in 7.7% of the 130,000 Britons tested between April 15 and May 3. Results which alert the British health authorities.

Growing concern of the British authorities

“The fact that this variant is progressing so quickly while we are still in a period of social restrictions is very worrying”, said Paul Hunter, professor at the University of East Anglia. A concern shared by Boris Johnson who convened his government Thursday, May 13 for a crisis meeting at the Ministry of Health, two days before a new crucial stage of British deconfinement authorizing meetings and indoor meals. Upon its conclusion, Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi indicated that the doctors would study “How to modify the vaccination campaign to make it as effective as possible in the face of this outbreak of the variant“. In one week, the number of cases resulting from the Indian mutation has climbed by 60%.

The British executive therefore said it was ready to take “any new useful measure“. These include greater sequencing of positive tests, opening up of vaccination to younger people or even bringing the second dose closer. The cases of the Indian variant being mainly concentrated in the north-west of England such as Bolton or Blackburn, but also in London, local confinements are also being considered. “Nothing is excluded“, Slipped the British Prime Minister, supplemented by the Minister of Health who declared to follow of”very very close to this situation“. The British authorities are not the only ones to watch over this epidemic resumption.

At the dawn of a fourth wave?

In France, we must be particularly vigilant about what is happening in the United Kingdom otherwise the same will happen to us.», Warns Professor Djillali Annane, head of the intensive care unit at Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches (Hauts-de-Seine). If for the moment the Indian variant circulates little on French soil, including “the vast majority of episodes reported to date are linked to cases of returning from a stay in India“, According to Public Health France,”it should not be neglected“. For Professor Djillali Annane, “we could be in the same situation as last January with the British variant“And thus find yourself confronted with an epidemic outbreak next September”if we do nothing“. The epidemiologist therefore calls “to take action“.

Massive screening measures and very strict isolation are needed in the event of a positive result for the Indian variant.“If the sequencing capacity is often criticized in France,”it must be greatly strengthened», Relying on British strength. Indeed, our neighbors across the Channel are pioneers and have invested heavily in this scientific technique, which has become essential to better identify the appearance and spread of emerging variants. “It would even have to be organized at the international level, adds Professor Anne-Claude Crémieux, infectious disease specialist at Saint-Louis hospital in Paris. Today, absolute transparency is needed between scientists around the world for better knowledge sharing», Including the effectiveness of vaccines.

Possibly less effective vaccines

Unlike France where 85% of people have received a dose of messenger RNA vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna), the United Kingdom has mainly relied on a vaccination based on AstraZenecca. Can a link be made between the chosen vaccine and epidemic recovery? “It’s a possibility“N considers Djillali Annane, who sees”a worrying indirect indicator, which may testify to the ineffectiveness of the vaccination campaign“. Anne-Claude Crémieux goes further, while remaining extremely cautious in the absence of certain scientific data: “To obtain collective immunity, it would be necessary to move towards a 100% vaccination based on messenger RNA, she completes, as is the case in Israel“.

While awaiting the conclusions of the British and Indian studies carried out this week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) remains confident, saying that “so far, overall vaccines will be effective against this variantWith greater certainty for RNA messenger vaccines. For its part, the WHO calls “urgently new robust studiesIn order to determine its real impacts and the best means to put in place to limit its spread. Professor Djillali Annane recalls, however, that “vaccine protection is not enough today: As long as the virus escapes one region of the world, mutations could jeopardize the global vaccination campaign.

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