Curtain over England from Wednesday. The British nation will be fully reconfined until March, authorities say. A few hours earlier, Scotland had taken a similar decision. Without going that far for the moment, Northern Ireland and Wales have also announced a strengthening of their anti-Covid measures.
In question ? The variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is believed to be at the origin of the surge in contaminations observed since the beginning of December across the Channel. And which is now spreading throughout Europe. We take stock.
What does this new confinement provide?
The measures are even stricter than those imposed during the first “lockdown”, last spring. It will simply be allowed to leave your home to go to work if teleworking is impossible, to do some physical exercise (limited to once a day), to go to a medical appointment, or to do essential purchases such as grocery shopping.
These restrictions will come into effect at midnight on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday but Boris Johnson calls for them to be respected now. Schools will also be closed from this Tuesday, except for the children of caregivers and those in vulnerable situations.
How is it justified?
For Boris Johnson, the urgency is to “take control” of the new variant of the virus. Since December, this mutation has been responsible for at least half of new infections in the most affected English regions, London and the South East. And the curves of the epidemic have been blazing for several weeks. 58,784 new cases, including 53,180 in England, were recorded in 24 hours Monday in the United Kingdom, according to the Department of Health. This is the seventh day in a row that this number has surpassed the 50,000 mark, which has never happened before.
This very strong increase logically has repercussions on hospital services. 26,626 patients are being treated in England on Monday, a number up 30% from the previous Monday and 40% higher than the peak of the first wave reached on April 12. Monday evening, the English health services (the NHS) also warned of the risk of being “overwhelmed in the next twenty-one days” if no “additional action” was taken. Currently around 400 people die every day in England.
“Containment always has a single reason and a single objective: to avoid overloading the health system. If you are afraid that it will implode under the effect of pressure, you have no other solution than to confine, ”approves epidemiologist Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute for Global Health in Geneva. He and his teams project “80,000 cases” and “700 deaths” per day in a week, unless vigilance measures applied before the reconfinement produced effects.
What do we really know about this new variant?
It would be “50 to 74%” more contagious, according to a scientific study published on December 24 (but not yet submitted to a review committee). According to work from Imperial College London published on December 31, this strain could increase the number of reproduction “R” (that is to say the number of people that an infected individual will infect on average ) 0.4 to 0.7 point.
On the other hand, there is nothing to confirm that it circulates more in children or within a particular age group. “This clone is a real subject, because it is a more transmissible strain, which increases the rate of reproduction of the virus. It is too early to say whether it has a particular tropism for young people, but we must remain vigilant, ”the epidemiologist and member of the Scientific Council, Arnaud Fontanet, told us on Monday. Likewise, there is no evidence to prove that it would be more virulent, that is to say that it would generate a greater proportion of serious forms of the disease or even death.
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The problem is that a 50% more transmissible variant is “in general a much bigger problem than a 50% more lethal variant,” as epidemiologist Adam Kucharski explained on December 28 in a series of widely shared messages. on Twitter. In the case of a province with 10,000 infected people, with a reproduction number of 1.1, 129 people would lose their lives within a month. This number would climb to 193 with a variant 50% more lethal and to 978 if it was transmitted more, illustrates the scientist.
Could new confinement also happen in France?
Other countries, such as Austria and Ireland, have already reconfigured their populations since the end of December. In France, the executive is content for the moment to advance the curfew to 6 p.m. in the most affected territories, as in fifteen departments since Saturday. Asked this Tuesday morning on RTL on the possibility of a third confinement in a year, Olivier Véran replied that he was “not a predictor”.
But the authorities still say they are “very vigilant” with respect to this new variant, as government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Le Parisien on Sunday. Olivier Véran specified that only “ten cases” had been identified on French soil for the moment. But there could be many more because the sequencing technique which allows to identify it is little realized in France. “The United Kingdom is one of the countries in the world which sequences the most in order to know the proportion of a particular strain”, confirms Antoine Flahault.
Renowned science journalist Kai Kupferschmidt said for his part that he would “closely follow” the evolution of curves in Denmark, the European country which has counted the most cases of the British variant (86 last Saturday).
But other reasons could of course also explain a situation that would worsen, for example if the restrictive measures were too relaxed or respected less. In early December, restaurants and pubs were also able to reopen in England. And Antoine Flahault concludes: “In all epidemics, variants have often been incriminated, especially since this allows policies to clear their way”.
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