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France reports three cases of Indian COVID-19 variant

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A member of staff passes in front of a collection of portraits of medical staff at Bichat Hospital, AP-HP, in Paris, Thursday, April 22, 2021.
A member of staff passes in front of a collection of portraits of medical staff at Bichat Hospital, AP-HP, in Paris, Thursday, April 22, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lewis Joly
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Three cases of the Indian variant have been detected in France, the Health Ministry has confirmed.

All three cases — one in the south-western départment of Lot et Garonne and two in Bouches-du-Rhone, in the south-east — involve people who have recently come back from India, the ministry said in a statement released late on Thursday.

The first person tested positive for the virus on April 9 after showing symptoms and was put under quarantine with her family.

The other two went under quarantine upon their return from India — respectively on April 19 and 27 — and tested positive during their isolation.

France closed its borders to travellers from India earlier this month with only French nationals and residents allowed to enter — foreigners must justify an essential reason to visit. All must submit to a 10-day quarantine upon arrival.

The Health Ministry added that "to date, several other suspicions of infection by the variant have been reported in France among people who have stayed in India" and that "sequencing of samples by laboratories are underway."

Previously, two cases the variant had been detected on the French island of Guadeloupe, involving foreigners.

The country — one of the most impacted in Europe with more than 103,000 deaths — is currently under its third national lockdown after infections started surging again in January following the emergence of the British variant.

President Emmanuel Macron outlined its phased easing of restrictions on Thursday and is scheduled to address the nation on Friday evening.

The B.1.617 variant is believed to be behind a surge of infections and deaths in India, where it was first discovered. The country has reported an average of 350,000 new infections daily over the past seven days and passed the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 death earlier this week.

The variant has multiple sub-lineages with different mutations some of which have been associated with higher transmissibility and lower resistance to treatment.

It has now been detected in at least 17 countries worldwide, seven of which are in Europe including Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK.

Britain is by far the most impacted with about 400 cases of the variant and its sub-lineages detected as of Thursday.