Coronavirus: Schools, English Mutation and Epidemic Rebounding … A Crucial Week for the Government

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With Coronavirus in Schools, an English mutation and epidemic rebound ... A crucial week for the government

EPIDEMIC: While the English mutation is present in France and the private New Year’s gatherings could lead in the coming days to an increase in contaminations and hospitalisations, the coming week promises to be crucial for the government

  • While the number of new coronavirus contaminations does not drop, an epidemic rebound is to be feared after the private New Year’s gatherings.
  • And the epidemic could ignite even more if the British mutation of the coronavirus, already spotted in France, actively circulated in the territory.
  • For the government, there is no question of establishing third confinement, but new restrictive measures could be decreed.

Keep the epidemic under control. Avoid the health disaster observed across the Channel, with the United Kingdom overwhelmed by the new variant of the coronavirus. This is the thorny mission of the government of Jean Castex, already widely criticized for its slowness in the launch of the coronavirus Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

Between the effect of the epidemic rebounding after the New Year which should be quantifiable as of this week and the discovery in France of clusters of the British mutation which could spread like wildfire on the territory, the next few days will be decisive for the government. And its room for manoeuvre will be very slim to contain the spread of the epidemic without having to draw the ultimate weapon of containment.

Monitor the spread of the English mutation

“Several things will be decisive during the coming week,” says Pascal Crépey, epidemiologist and teacher-researcher at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health in Rennes. We can expect clusters related to New Year’s Eve in the coming days, followed by an increase in hospitalisations. And of course, there is the English variant, which increases the transmissibility of the virus ”.

To date, several contaminations with the new variant have been identified in France. He was identified in a French family of five, residing in the United Kingdom and coming to Marseille for the holidays, after a test on December 31st. In the process, around forty contact cases were identified, among them, eight cases of people with this mutation were detected this Sunday, and 23 positive cases for  coronavirus Covid-19 . He is also present in Ile-de-France, where a school leader has tested positive for this mutation, although he had not made any stay in the United Kingdom.

“We will know the result of the surveys in progress on the level of circulation of this new variant, which will make it possible to compare these data with the evolution of the English situation, and to make more accurate projections on the health situation in the days, weeks and months to come, indicates the epidemiologist. But it is quite clear that the new mutation is already circulating in the territory. And as has been the case in the UK and Denmark, it is expected to gradually replace the current strain and make the outbreak much more difficult to control. There is no reason to think that there will be a French exception to this new mutation from the moment it spreads more easily than the old one, it will inevitably dominate the viral circulation in our country ”.

Massive testing and sequencing

But how far does the mutation circulate in France? A national survey was launched to make a “first mapping”, and the health authorities should start to see more clearly in the coming days, explained this Sunday the Minister of Health Olivier Véran. In Roubaix, in the North, a vast campaign of tests PCR and antigens will start on Monday, with the mutation in the crosshairs thanks to genetic sequencing. “Sequencing now makes it possible to detect this variant in the absence of specific RT-PCR,” explains Pascal Crépey. But in the coming weeks, specific tests will directly identify this coronavirus mutation. This sequencing phase is therefore temporary while waiting for the laboratories to equip themselves massively to detect this English mutation ”.

And in schools, where a spread of the variant is feared, screenings will also increase. “We put ourselves in a situation to do a million tests in schools, mainly high schools and colleges,” assured the Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer this Sunday to the Grand Jury of RTL.

Keep schools open

For Jean-Michel Blanquer, the goal is to keep schools open. “Our compass is to say that the last thing that there would be to close in the event of tightening of measures, is the school”, he insisted. Especially since to date, most of the contaminations detected in schools are “linked to activities outside of school”, he recalled this Sunday. This is why “there is no need at this stage to consider the closure of schools”, for example by extending the February holidays, added his colleague Olivier Véran.

“In the first analyzes carried out in the United Kingdom, one had the impression that the incidence of this new variant was a little higher in the younger age groups, but it is to be put in perspective: when the variant began to circulate, schools were open, so as in the rest of the population, this variant also spread more easily in schools, details epidemiologist Pascal Crépey. What is more likely is that the variant spreads more easily regardless of the age group. This means that there will be more infections than before in young populations, just as there will be more in older age groups. And for now, if the sanitary protocol implemented in schools remains effective and allows them to be kept open without risk of epidemics,

Avoid re-confinement

“I do not want us to experience” the same “catastrophic” situation as in England and Scotland, which had to reconfine themselves, Olivier Véran said on Sunday. France is taking “proportionate measures” in the face of “slow growth in the circulation of the virus”, and “whether there is any need to take additional measures (it will be) if we find that the virus is resuming a wild race under the form of a wave, which is not the case at the time I speak to you, ”assured the minister, questioned about a possible re-confinement.

“But the fact that the measures should be strengthened in the near future leaves little doubt,” said Pascal Crépey. And if the British variant wins in France, the government could be forced out for the third time the very unpopular card of containment. “From an epidemiological point of view, we could justify confining the entire population now, including in the west of France where the incidence rate is relatively low and where the epidemic is under control. This would reduce the circulation of the current variant and delay the spread of the English variant, the time to vaccinate as many people as possible and in particular those at risk. But what may make sense from an epidemiological point of view does not necessarily make sense from a social, societal and economic point of view. This is why it must remain a tool of last resort: a new confinement, if not accepted, may not be respected, and will be ineffective. However, as it is our ultimate weapon to control the epidemic, if we blunt it, we risk finding ourselves disarmed when the variant spreads more widely in the territory ”.

Additional restrictions not impossible

While France remains on a contamination plateau, eight new departments will switch to an advanced curfew at 6 pm this Sunday, and the government could decree other restrictive measures. But does he still have levers to operate? “We can still improve teleworking: some of the people who will telework could stay at home and thus avoid contact in the workplace and in transport,” Pascal Crépey prescribes. We could also think about closing again the places of worship, which remain places at risk because they are confined spaces ”.

Less restrictive, but little acclaimed, “the TousAntiCovid app is a potentially effective weapon for reducing epidemic pressure, because it makes the screening strategy of” test, trace, isolate “very responsive, insists the epidemiologist. However, it remains shunned by the French, with barely 12 million downloads to date. If instead of a fifth of the French, at least half of the French used it, the situation would be much better ”.

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