New coronavirus variant found in France is undetectable by PCR tests

A new coronavirus variant is raising concerns in France as regular PCR-tests are unable to detect the mutation, health officials stated during a press conference on Tuesday.

On Monday, the French health authorities announced that a new coronavirus variant was detected in a hospital in the commune of Lannion in the Côtes d’Armor in France’s Brittany department, adding that PCR tests failed to detect the virus.

On Tuesday, Belgian virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht clarified that it concerned “a small outbreak, of about 8 to 10 cases, who showed typical coronavirus symptoms, but the tests remained negative.”

“So far, we have not established this variant on Belgian territory,” he said, repeating that – just like with the British and South-African variant – it is normal that new variants show up “as part of the virus’ natural evolution.”

Van Gucht emphasised that Belgium is following reports about the variant closely, mainly because of the reports that tests are failing to pick up on the variant.

However, many different tests are used by different laboratories, according to him. “And it is possible that one particular test has a problem with one particular variant, but that does not necessarily mean that this is the case for all other tests – quite the contrary.”

“Each test detects one to three different parts of the virus,” Van Gucht explained, adding that different tests can detect different parts.

“Usually, a good test does not depend on detecting one specific part,” he added. “So, if there is a mutation in one part of the virus, that signal may be lost, but there is usually a second or third signal that will be found.”

The Belgian authorities will continue to follow up on both the evolution of the variant and the issue with tests “very carefully,” according to Van Gucht. “In the worst case, this may mean that certain tests have to be adapted.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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