French authorities are warning of a new COVID-19 variant that appears to evade detection more successfully than others.
The variant was discovered in the western Brittany region after several patients developed symptoms of the virus, but returned negative results after undertaking Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. PCR tests are used to directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body's immune response, or antibodies.
The patients only returned a positive result when samples were taken from their blood or deep in the respiratory system.
Scientists are now investigating the strain, the regional health authority said on Tuesday.
Eight cases of the new variant were identified in a cluster in a Brittany hospital. France's health ministry said late on Monday (local time) that early analysis did not suggest the mutation was more contagious or more deadly than earlier versions of the virus.
"Investigations will take place to determine how this variant reacts to vaccination and to antibodies developed during prior COVID infections," Brittany's regional health authority said in a statement.
International agencies have been alerted to the discovery of the new variant.
Brittany has so far avoided the brunt of the third wave of infections sweeping through France and other European countries, but the incidence rate is rising.
The seven-day moving average of infections per 100,000 inhabitants in Brittany stood at 132.9 on March 12 compared with 113 a week earlier. The incidence rate in Paris and its surrounds, where intensive care wards are near saturation, stands at 404 per 100,000.
The government is now considering another lockdown.
Reuters / Newshub.