Europe holds its breath: Macron to address nation after new Covid variant discovered

Merkel and Macron 'undermining consensus' says expert

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The new variant is more easily transmissible, scientists at the Henri Mondor hospital warned, with the risk of a new wave growing. They said the variant had 18 new mutations, including two which can spread quicker and fight vaccines more successfully than the original COVID-19.

Virologist Dr Jean-Michel Pawlotsky told France Inter: “We have identified two mutations which are interesting: the 501Y mutation, which seems linked to in increased transmissibility of the virus.

“And another mutation in position 452, which has been suggested to potentially decrease sensitivity to the effect of vaccination.”

So far, there appear to be few cases of this variant, dubbed the Henri Mondor variant, but it is said to be spreading quickly.

Dr Pawlotsky told French media outlet LCI: “The appearance of a cluster in a neighbouring hospital to our hospital showed us that these four people have been infected by a new virus.”

According to France Inter, after four cases in Creteil, around 30 cases were found in the south of the country, in the Dordogne department, in the commune of Pontivy.

LCI said since then, cases have been detected in the Brittany department, in north-western France.

Cases quickly increased to over 190 people infected. The doctor is, however, hopeful it might not become a leading variant, given it currently only represents about 2 percent of cases in France, compared to 63 percent for the British variant (76 percent according to the national health body Sante Publique France).

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A statement issued by Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, a university hospital trust based in Paris and the largest hospital system in Europe, stated: “Within four weeks of its discovery, the new ‘Henri-Mondor’ variant was found in 29 patients of various geographical origins (Ile-de-France, South-East and South-West of France).

“Its detection frequency has continued to increase since then, with the identification of several clusters and it is increasingly found in samples tested by the Henri-Mondor hospital.”

Most of the major pharmaceutical companies have said their vaccines could be quickly modified to make them effective against new variants.

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Mr Macron will address the nation at 8pm tonight after coronavirus cases in France rose by 55 percent in a fortnight.

Mr Macron has sought to avoid a third large-scale lockdown since the start of the year, gambling he could steer France out of the pandemic without locking the country down again he would give the economy a chance to recover from a deep slump.

However, in recent weeks his options have narrowed as the highly contagious and virulent coronavirus variant first detected in Britain swept across France and much of Europe.

The number of patients in intensive care breached 5,000 on Tuesday, the highest number this year and exceeding the peak hit during a six-week long lockdown in the autumn. Thousands of school classes have been closed down.

President Macron was holding a weekly COVID defence council this morning.

A government source told Reuters three scenarios were being examined: a massive operation to transfer intensive care patients from overloaded hospitals to lesser-hit regions; school closures; strict lockdown in the hardest-hit parts of France.

France faces having to tighten measures just as neighbouring Britain slowly emerges from a lockdown imposed in early January.

The French parliament will hold a debate and vote on Thursday on the newly announced measures to tackle the pandemic.

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