FOCUS- Coming from South Africa, they are derivatives of Omicron with the names of BA.4 and BA.5.
“Contamination increases, acknowledged Olivia Grégoire, government spokesperson, on June 23 on France Info. We are attentive and vigilant.” The day before, Emmanuel Macron said “do not rule out new emergency measures on the epidemic“, while the period of validity of the health pass comes to an end on July 31 – unless extended by Parliament. An epidemic recovery which is felt by the increase in new contaminations. In one month, the number of daily cases has been multiplied by 2.5, going from 20,000 contaminations to more than 50,000.
France seems to be following the example of its Portuguese neighbor, which since mid-May has seen the spread of the virus soar on its territory, driven by the spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, Omicron mutations, which came all South African law.
Initially a minority, BA.4 and BA.5 are now in the majority at 64% in France. BA.5 also seems to be taking over, thus replacing BA.2 (mutation responsible for this winter’s wave), as confirmed by Public Health France in its weekly update of June 23. What do we know about these new variants that risk playing spoilsport for this summer?
Higher contagiousness, lower intensity
“We know that it spreads more quickly in the population, slice Professor Anne-Claude Crémieux, infectiologist at the Saint-Louis hospital in Paris. It quickly took over BA.1, in part due to greater immune escape“. In other words, BA.4 and BA.5 are not stopped by acquired immunity in vaccinated or previously contaminated persons. In addition, the elderly and with risk factors are more easily contaminated, according to Public Health France.
In two years, the initial Covid-19 virus has undergone multiple mutations, often making it more contagious but rarely more virulent. This is particularly the case for these BA.4 and BA.5. If it is difficult to make an initial assessment in France, we can look at the South African or Portuguese examples in order to imagine how the situation could evolve in France. “In South Africa, the 5e wave was short (less than 8 weeks), of low intensity (peak around 10,000 cases per day against 30,000 cases per day for wave BA.1) and with limited hospital impact“, analyzes Public Health France, in its report of June 15, 2022. The scientists issue a similar conclusion for Portugal where “the peak of this wave that started at the end of April now seems to have passed“. “If this is confirmed, the amplitude of the wave will have been much less than the previous one.“, concludes the public health body.
These two new variants come with their share of surprises including new symptoms. Thus people contaminated by BA.4 and BA.5 suffer more easily from nausea, vomiting, digestive pain which were previously reserved for children. In addition, the loss of taste and smell, neglected during the Omicron wave this winter, are also making a comeback with a more sudden arrival.
Finally, “a new symptom seems to affect patients, accurate to FigaroGilles Pialoux, head of the infectious and tropical diseases department at the Tenon hospital in Paris. They often have a sore throat and trouble swallowing“. The professor adds that there are fewer asymptomatic people and that “symptoms last longer and are stronger“. However, “the lungs are not attacked as with the Delta“, reassures the infectiologist.
Towards the return of restrictive measures?
The two new variants, suggesting the arrival of a seventh wave for this summer, should they lead to the return of health measures? On June 23, the Minister of Health, Brigitte Bourguignon launched an intensification of the vaccination campaign, pushing those over 60 to receive their fourth dose. “Only a quarter of the people concerned are not vaccinated, it is not enough“, lamented for her part the spokesperson, Olivia Grégoire.
Asked about a possible return to health measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask in transport, the minister judged that at this stage, “the current measures are enough if everyone gets involved“. She urged “civic responsibility […] to avoid additional hospital stress“. “We test ourselves as soon as we have symptoms, we isolate ourselves if we are positive, and we keep the mask possibly in places where there is too much proximity“, also recommended this former deputy from Pas-de-Calais, beaten in the legislative elections.
“Obviously when contagiousness and immune escape increase, the logic is to increase barrier gestures“, Assumes Professor Gilles Pialoux, emphasizing people at risk, especially in closed places. Infectiologist Anne-Claude Crémieux also calls for individual responsibility.