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France: Cluster of UK variant identified in Marseilles

The discovery of “few clusters” of the UK variant of the COVID-19 virus has raised alarms in France over the rapid spread, particularly in the second largest city of Marseille, where authorities have declared an outbreak.

“From now every single minute counts to stop the spread. We have to react immediately to contain," Benoît Payan, mayor of Marseilles, announced Sunday while declaring health measures upon the detection of a cluster in the Bouches-du-Rhône department.

Around 45 contact persons were identified to have come in contact with the patient zero of which 23 tested positive. The UK variant was confirmed to be found in eight people.

The variant was first identified in a French national belonging to a family of 5, underwent a screening test by RT-PCR on Dec 31, at the Marseille University Hospital Institute which identified that this was the variant of the COVID-19 resulting from the UK, a statement from the regional health authorities confirmed. The family residing and working in the UK had returned to France during end of the year holidays.

Payan announced that a team of 40 marine firemen divided into two mobile biological intervention cells and 10 rapid-result test units was deployed for emergency testing of contact cases, the environment and wastewater. “We need to trace, test and isolate each person potentially carrying the variant. The Faster we can trace, the faster we can isolate and avoid the spread of this very virulent virus,” he said.

The firefighters will carry out surface samples of wastewater from the residential sites of positive tested people, to identify the presence and suggest exposure of the inhabitants to the virus. Depending on the results of these samples, screenings may be offered to people potentially exposed to COVID-19, the health statement said.

In the preliminary surface test carried out on five addresses, 30 residents of the building were tested after the premises "revealed traces of COVID,” of which at least two were found to be positive, Payan detailed.

In light of the cluster, Bouches-du-Rhône and seven other departments will be enforcing an advanced curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Another case of the UK variant has also come to light in the Hautes-Alpes department, also in a French family residing in the UK who came to stay in France during the end of year holidays. This person and his at-risk contact cases are placed in isolation, authorities informed.

Health Minister Olivier Véran in an interview with Europe 1 / Cnews / Les Echos conceded that "a few clusters" of the variant have been identified in France and all measures were deployed to prevent its spreading. “The virus is a priori sensitive to the vaccine but it is more contagious," he said.

Veran added that the circulation of the COVID-19 virus was “high” in the country with 18,000 cases per day on average and more than 1,000 hospitalizations per day. He said the number of patients in intensive care is no longer decreasing.

He however expressed hope in the anti-COVID vaccination campaign which has picked up pace after a slow start. As of Sunday, 1,046,000 people received the jab and Veran said by the end of January, “more than a million French people would have been vaccinated."


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