Despite the detection of five clusters, the Health Minister says the tension “does not spread quickly” and is moving forward with the reopening plan.
The coronavirus variant first detected in India appears to be on the rise in France, which has now reported at least 20 cases, according to the country’s health minister.
On Monday, Olivier Veran told the French news channel LCI that the affected people had been identified in five small groups, local media reported.
Veran did not specify where the cases had been registered, but said the variant, formally known as B.1.617, “did not spread rapidly” in the country.
France first detected a handful of instances of the variant late last month.
Veran’s comments surfaced as concerns about the strain grew as B.1.617 is linked to a devastating wave of infections in India.
It has since spread to about twenty more countries, including several European countries, causing new travel restrictions with India.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described B.1.617 as a “variant of interest”, suggesting that it may have mutations that make the virus more transmissible, cause more serious diseases or evade vaccine immunity. .
Other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa, have been classified as “variants of concern,” a higher level of threat.
B.1.617 contains two notable mutations: formally known as E484Q and L452R.
This has led to it sometimes being called the “double mutant” strain, although this is a somewhat bad name, as it actually carries more than a dozen mutations altogether.
Reopening of plans
France began its third national closure in late March, but faced pressure from companies and a tired COVID audience.
Despite the increase in cases, Veran confirmed that France will continue with plans to reopen bars and restaurants for outdoor service on May 19, as the third wave of the pandemic appears to be easing.
Authorities will also begin relaxing a night curfew.
“The prospects look pretty good, but we don’t have to lower our guard,” Veran told LCI television.
The moves come as France tries to speed up its mass vaccination program after a slow start.
On Sunday, 17.8 million people had received at least one dose of vaccine, which accounted for 26.6 percent of the total population, according to the health ministry. About 7.8 million people had been completely inoculated with two doses.
Meanwhile, the number of patients with COVID-19 in French intensive care units fell below 5,000 for the first time since Sunday, March 29, according to data from the health ministry.
The figure fell for the sixth day in a row, to 4,971, from 5,005 the day before, according to the ministry. The health ministry also said a total of 106,392 people had died from COVID-19 on Sunday, up from 115.
The number of new infections increased by 9,128, compared to 9,888 the previous week, to reach 5.78 million.