Covid19. Omicron’s sub-variant, BA 2, becomes dominant in Toulouse: should we be worried about this?

22.7% of recent tests in Occitania have been positive.  The variant identified in more than 50% of these cases is BA 2.
22.7% of recent tests in Occitania have been positive. The variant identified in more than 50% of these cases is BA 2. (© Adobe Stock)

On Monday, March 14, 2022, the obligation to wear masks in companies and schools will be eliminated. A decision taken by the government and announced by Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne on March 8.

Recovery from the epidemic in France

A decision that came as the covid epidemic under the influence of various sub-variants of Omicron tends to regain strength in various parts of northern France.

After a steady decline for several weeks, certain indicators such as the rate of incidence and positivity in these episodes are indeed increasing.

Decline slows in Occitania

In Occitania, the Regional Health Agency (ARS) estimates that “despite the gradual decline in contamination, viruses are still very active.”

With the positivity rate of 22.7% of the tests, the coronavirus is far from being eradicated in our region.

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Will the recovery of the epidemic already observed in France be seen in Occitania with the relaxation of restrictions on Monday? Should we be worried about the end of mask use, especially for the protection of sensitive people? Jacques Izopey, Head of the Department of Virology at the University of Toulouse Hospital. answers our questions:

News: How is the epidemic developing in Occitania? Which variants are circulating the most?

Jacques Izopei: Omicron has three subspecies: BA 1, BA2 and BA3. They appeared in South Africa and Botswana in November 2021 before spreading around the world. BA 1 and BA 2 dominate in France today and there are some cases of BA3. For four weeks the Delta variant had disappeared, with BA 1 representing 50% of contaminations such as BA 2, which was still on its way to predominance. Its progression is more gradual than previous variants, most likely as many people have been vaccinated. Today, the progress of BA 2 is slowing with greater mass immunization.

Should we be worried about BA 2’s impending dominance? Will it change the nature of the epidemic in Occitania?

DS-S. : It is clearly necessary to closely monitor this variant with genomic monitoring, but there is no particular fear because its properties in terms of severity and escape from neutralizing antibodies are very close to those of BA 1. remains high compared to the initial warning threshold. Currently, there are no signals to report a strong resumption of the epidemic with this sub-variant of Omicron.

Will the end of the indoor mask challenge this trend?

DS-S. : A virus’s environment obviously plays on its spread, such as its characteristics and the population’s immunization level. In this regard, we have two advantages. First, a population that is more immune to the major contaminations of recent weeks. Second, our increased vaccine coverage. What is likely to happen with the end of the mask and, more generally, the relaxation of barrier movements, is a less potent reduction in the epidemic initially. There is a risk that the virus will remain above a high circulation plateau. This is what we already see everywhere in France, and probably also in Occitanie, where the incidence rate is over 500 cases per 100,000 people. This rapidly multiplying virus could cause new spikes in the epidemic.

Will staff at Toulouse University Hospital continue to wear masks?

DS-S. : Masks will continue to be mandatory for both staff and patients at Toulouse University Hospital. A consistent decision at this stage of the epidemic.

From your epidemiologist’s perspective, do you recommend keeping the mask inside, given the current level of circulation of the virus?

DS-S. : I always go back to common sense. I don’t think I would be shocked if people continue to wear masks in geographic areas where there are people and where the virus’s circulation is still strong, like Occitania, where the positivity rate exceeds 20% of positive tests. expiration of the obligation. For ourselves, if the virus that is currently circulating can be said to be less virulent, there may be more vulnerable people around us who would not have the same virus without consequences.

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