France detects new Covid-19 variant

Paris: France has detected several cases of a new Covid-19 variant, raising concerns amid a surge in cases of the infectious disease in Europe. The variant, known as B.1.X or B.1.640, was detected in October in Bannalec and Finistere, French dailty Le Telegramme reported.

It was discovered after 24 people, including 18 students, were infected at a school in the Brittany region. The school where the outbreak occurred was forced to close 50 per cent of its classes, according to Le Telegramme.

The outbreak is now under control with no new infections found in France since October 26, the French regional health agency said. However, the variant remains under surveillance, Jerusalem Post reported.

Few cases of this variant have also been discovered in the UK, Switzerland, Scotland and Italy, although the Delta variant continues to be the most dominant strains in these regions. The UK’s health security agency has classified iB.1.640 as a variant under monitoring.

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are yet to list B.1.640. in variants of concern (VOC) and in variants of interest (VOI).

However, the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) classifies B.1.x or B.1.640 as a variant under monitoring (VUM) or mutant virus.

According to Cyrille Cohen of Bar-Ilan University, who is originally from France, variant B.1.640 has some unprecedented mutations — the spike protein, which allows the virus to cling to the human cell and start the infection process, has some deletions, Jerusalem Post reported. However, the question still remains whether this will make the virus more contagious or less effective.

The variant is believed to come from Africa, a scenario that Cohen said health experts fear and highlights the need for vaccine equality.

“Not giving vaccines to these countries may seem OK in the short-term,” Cohen said, “but in the long run, we may have problematic new variants developing in unvaccinated countries.”

“I don’t want to scare people. There are only a few cases of B.1.640 now and it could very well be that in a month we could all forget about this variant. But it is an example of what could happen if there was no access to vaccines for everyone,” he added.