More contagious, the Brazilian variant P1 remains poorly known, but raises many concerns, which have prompted the French government to suspend flights to and from Brazil until further notice.
“These fears are justified, because the P1 variant is really more contagious and it has spread at high speed in Brazil, which is a huge country, where the pandemic is totally out of control,” Natalia Pasternak told AFP. , microbiologist and director of the Institut Questoes de Ciencia (Science questions).
P1 emerged last December in the Manaus region of the Amazon, but was only first identified as a new variant in January, in Japan, in travelers who stayed in these areas of northern Brazil. .
It has also reached many countries in South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia or Venezuela), but also the United States, Canada, Germany or France, even if it does not represents only 0.5% of new contaminations in metropolitan France.
Why is it more contagious?
Like the South African variant, it carries the E484K mutation, which, according to some studies, could lead to more re-infections than other strains, as more antibodies are needed to resist it.
It also has several deletions in the Spike protein, the one through which the virus enters cells to infect them.
“It’s a bit as if it were a master key that manages to open several locks at the same time,” Jesem Orellana, researcher at the Fiocruz institute, told AFP.
“And from an epidemiological point of view, this variant is more likely to destabilize regions where there is little control of the circulation of the virus, causing the saturation of hospitals” in poorly equipped areas like that of Manaus, affected by a severe oxygen shortage in January.
“If the authorities had been responsible, they would have sealed Manaus, as China did with Wuhan. Instead, we transferred patients to other states to relieve congestion in hospitals, ”laments Jesem Orellana.
Is it more dangerous?
No conclusive study has yet been published to prove that the P1 variant is more lethal.
In preliminary studies, Jesem Orellana found that P1 did not lead to a higher death rate in hospitalized patients in Manaus, compared to the peak of the first wave, in April 2020.
This is in line with two studies published on Tuesday claiming that the ‘British’ variant of the coronavirus does not cause more severe forms of COVID-19.
According to him, if the death toll has exploded in Brazil in recent weeks, it is because of the saturation of hospitals, “because this variant is more contagious, but also because of a relaxation of the population, which adheres less to restrictive measures ”.
The only recent good news about this variant: preliminary studies have shown that the Chinese vaccine CoronaVac, the most used in Brazil, is effective against P1, like those of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, injected in particular in France.
How widespread is it in Brazil?
The P1 variant is already present throughout the Brazilian territory, even if the data available at the national level are insufficient to assess its percentage in contamination.
“Unfortunately, health vigilance in Brazil is one of the worst in the world in terms of sequencing, it is not for nothing that the P1 variant has ended up being discovered in Japan”, deplores Mr. Orellana.
And the unbridled circulation of the virus has led to other mutations, with the appearance of other variants originating from the same strain, such as P2, circulating in particular in Rio de Janeiro, or P4, which recently appeared in the region of Belo Horizonte. , in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais.
For Jesem Orellana, “Brazil has become an open-air variant laboratory”.
To avoid the circulation of these variants, “the ideal would be that we could combine confinement and mass vaccination, as in the United Kingdom or in Israel,” says Natalia Pasternak.
“But we have neither, for lack of political will for containment, and insufficient doses for vaccination,” she insists, pointing to the “lack of coordination national “from the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which has repeatedly played down the pandemic.