“The ninth wave is here”, and it will still be there at Christmas, projects Mircea Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology and evolution of infectious diseases at the University of Montpellier. He explains how the BQ1.1 variant found loopholes to enter our organism. As for the consequences… If the infection remains benign for healthy people, what about the most fragile? What is the risk of long Covid? What pressure on the hospital system? The researcher advances some certainties and many doubts.
“This time, France is on the front line”. Epidemiologist Mircea Sofonea explains what to expect in the coming weeks with the rise of BQ1.1, the sub-variant of Omicron that breaks down new barriers in our immunity.
We will spend Christmas with the epidemic
It goes up, it goes up BQ1.1, the new sub-variant of Omicron. “At the end of October, it represented a third of Covid contaminations in France”, recalls Mircea Sofonea. He estimates that it is now one in two, and even “three quarters of contamination in Ile-de-France”.
More perhaps, given its “growth advantage”, of the order of + 100%, according to Mircea Sofonea. “The screening policy has not been updated, and the sequencing always gives late figures, and less precise because of the volume of samples studied”, recalls the scientist.
A certainty: “It is clear that it is a new wave which begins”, the ninth, announces the researcher, who explains that we will spend the Christmas holidays with.
Mutations that make us more vulnerable
“If we compare to the group of the BA5 variant, its ancestor, mutations have occurred in key places”, explains Mircea Sofonea. These amino acid changes are strategic, because they occur on sections hitherto recognized by antibodies. Immune escape is easier.
Consequence: “Vaccination and previous infections are less protective”. Like monoclonal antibodies, a treatment so far protective of infected patients.
The epidemic recovery figures reflect the situation: on November 23, according to the Covid Tracker site, the incidence rate, on the rise, was 331 per 100,000 inhabitants, the positivity rate, “very high and on the rise”, of 23.07%, and the R, the reproduction rate of the virus, of 1.09, still “moderate”, but also “on the rise”.
What impact on the long Covid?
“For the moment, nothing says that this virus is more virulent, we have no signal in this direction”, nevertheless insists Mircea Sofonea. But given the dynamics of the epidemic, “there will be more reinfections”, which always poses “the problem of people at risk of serious forms or in treatment failure”.
With underlying questions: “What will be the impact on sick leave? Will there be the same risk of having a long Covid? What will happen in the event of flu/Covid co-infection ?”
“The situation is not documented but not desirable,” said the researcher.
Is there a risk of hospital tensions?
With 19.2% of critical care beds occupied by Covid patients, Wednesday 23, the pressure on hospitals, which is still low, does not yet cause concern. “No, I don’t think there is a risk of asphyxiation”, confirms Mirécea Sofonea, who refuses however to projections: “There, we are in the fog because we are ahead in the progression of the varying, while the British were ahead for Omicron”.
“France is the country where hospitalizations are the most important”, and we are entering the epidemic of influenza and other respiratory pathologies… in a “global context which requires investment at all levels, from researchers, to the hospital, biologists…”
Many are overdue or in conflict with the health authorities. Researchers too: “I spend my time applying for funding, it’s time that I don’t spend on research”, underlines the Montpellier resident.