Indian variant threatens UK deconfinement

The UK lifted new restrictions on Monday (May 17th). However Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for taking advantage of these new freedoms with a large dose of precautions, Pointing out that the spread of the Indian variant was under close surveillance.

The number of cases has more than doubled in a week, especially in parts of London, Manchester and Scotland. In all, 86 localities are affected, although it is still in the minority compared to other strains. This variant, called a double mutant, is in fact the product of a double infection. Patients with two strains of the virus create a third lineage. It has at least three variations. It was first spotted last October in India and since then it has affected some fifty countries, including its neighbors such as Nepal, Bhutan where despite vaccination, the number of cases is rising.

According to members of the British Scientific Council, it is at least as transmissible as the Kent variant, which caused a catastrophic second wave in England this winter. But preliminary Indian studies show it can be even more contagious. Up to 60% more than the British variant. However for the moment, difficult to say if it causes more serious forms of the disease. Again, a small study done on hamsters by a team from the Pune Institute of Virology in India shows that those infected with this variant had more inflamed lungs than those infected with other strains.

The European Medicines Agency is rather optimistic about the effectiveness of vaccines against this variant. According to several preliminary studies, RNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, seem to resist it well. But it has a mutation on its spike protein similar to that of the South African variant. This mutation worries some scientists about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is used mainly in the United Kingdom and which South Africa has refused to deploy for fear that it does not protect its population enough. In vitro, Indian analyzes show that the antibodies of patients vaccinated or already infected with previous strains are less effective against this variant.

But the virologist Ravindra Gupta of the University of Cambridge recalls that « humans are not hamsters ». Our immune system is much more complex than the level of antibodies in a test tube would show. We must therefore keep this variant under surveillance without panicking. However, some British epidemiologists are already trying to model what level would reach a third wave in the country in July-August because of this variant.

In France for the moment, around twenty cases have been identified by Public Health France in eight regions, most of them coming from India.

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