Beta variant: what is the Covid mutation, how many cases are in France and the UK, and will my vaccine protect me?
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People from the UK will be gearing up for long awaited summer holidays abroad, as those with two jabs will not need to isolate when returning from amber list countries, from 19 July.
However, the UK government has decided the alleviation of restrictions will not apply to anyone returning from France, as the country endures an outbreak of beta variant Covid cases.
The variant originated in South Africa and was first found last year, it has since spread to over 120 countries.
So, what is the ‘Beta’ variant, are there cases in the UK, and how widespread is it in France? This is what you need to know.
What is the Beta Variant?
The Beta mutation of Covid-19 is also known as B.1.351, and is similar to the Alpha, Gamma and Delta variants.
The similarities between them lie in that they are more resistant to the vaccines developed, more contagious and could be more harmful to those who become infected.
For these reasons, it has been deemed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The variant was first picked up last year and led to South Africa and South America both being registered on the UK’s red list, meaning people from the UK were only permitted to travel to those countries under essential, emergency circumstances.
On 17 June, Professor John Edmunds, a professor in the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told BBC Radio 4: “The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout.
“It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment. Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent.”
His comments came as the UK moved France from the amber list to the amber+ list, meaning that Brits flying back from France will still need to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival back in the UK.
How widespread is the Beta variant in France?
While the UK government has decided Brits should not travel to France and must quarantine when they arrive home, French MEP and medical doctor, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, told BBC Today that the variant is only a concern on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean.
The variant now accounts for 10 percent of new cases in France, but this includes the Indian Ocean territories of Reunion and Mayotte, where the variant accounts for nearly all cases.
“It is not present in France, in mainland France, at all,” Trillet-Lenoir continued.
The UK government said it was concerned over “persistent cases” of the virus in France, while the more infectious Delta variant accounts for almost all new cases in the UK.
According to French media, the variant has been reducing in numbers for several weeks and is not of major concern in Metropolitan areas of the country.
There have been 88 new cases of the Beta variant in France in the four weeks leading to 1 July, bringing its total to 2,135, its data shows.
Are there Beta variant cases in the UK?
The UK recorded four new cases during the month of June, increasing its total to 812.
Elsewhere, Germany is reported to have had 2,197 cases of the variant.
Why has the UK government moved France from the Amber list?
It has now been reported that France could be moved to the red list for international travel, meaning Brits would need to quarantine in Covid hotels for 10 days when they arrive home.
Aviation analyst Alex Macheras accused the government on BBC Newsnight on Friday of having “simply continued to make up the rules as they go along”.
However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the move was made to protect Brits from another wave of Covid and there were concerns that vaccines administered to the UK population could be ineffective against the Beta variant.
The UK health secretary. Sajid Javid, said the government had always been clear it would to immediate action to “protect the gains made by our successful vaccination programme”, by restricting borders.