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COMETE Network acquires capacity to detect B1.617 “Indian variant” of Covid-19 in wastewater

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As part of the management of the current public health crisis, France’s COMETE Network, co-founded by the Bataillon de Marins Pompiers de Marseille (BMPM), commanded by Counter Admiral Patrick Augier, and the OpenHealth Company, chaired by Dr. Patrick Guerin, has announced that it is able – thanks to its scientific and industrial partnership with biotechnology laboratory Biosellal - to detect the new E484Q (then L452R) mutations, markers of the "Indian variant", as part of its environmental monitoring system currently being deployed on French territory.

The COMETE Network aims to support municipalities, departments, and regions in their monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic and to share the operational and scientific techniques developed by the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear and Explosives unit (CBRNE unit) and partner laboratories, in order to remain one step ahead in the battle against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The scientific partnerships initiated several months ago within the COMETE Network make it possible to respond promptly to the virus’s evolution.

According to Dr. Patrick Guerin: "It is by organising the deployment of our operational, technological and industrial know-how that we will reinforce our crisis management capacities. The teams from Biosellal and the CBRN unit of the BMPM have been working for many weeks to adapt the variant screening methods already in use. The COMETE Network is now supported by partners with unique and efficient R&D capacities adapted to the monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 mutations”.

Brexit

Macron offers UK's Johnson 'Le reset' if he keeps his Brexit word

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French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday (12 June) to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union, writes Michel Rose.

Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London's refusal to honour the terms of part of its Brexit deal.

At a meeting at the Group of Seven rich nations in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could improve only if Johnson kept his word on Brexit, a source said.

"The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans," the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.

The Elysee Palace said that France and Britain shared a common vision and common interests on many global issues and "a shared approach to transatlantic policy".

Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the dispute over a part of the EU divorce deal that is called the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.

The protocol aims to keep the province, which borders EU member Ireland, in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market. But London says the protocol is unsustainable in its current form because of the disruption it has caused to supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland.

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EU

Macron slapped in the face during walkabout in southern France

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A man slapped President Emmanuel Macron in the face on Tuesday (8 June) during a walkabout in southern France, write Michel Rose and Sudip Kar-gupta.

Macron later said he had not feared for his safety, and that nothing would stop him carrying on with his job.

In a video circulating on social media, Macron reached out his hand to greet a man in a small crowd of onlookers standing behind a metal barrier as he visited a professional training college for the hospitality industry.

The man, who was dressed in a khaki T-shirt, then shouted "Down with Macronia" ("A Bas La Macronie") and slapped Macron on the left side of his face.

He could also be heard shouting "Montjoie Saint Denis", the battle cry of the French army when the country was still a monarchy.

Two of Macron's security detail tackled the man in the T-shirt, and another ushered Macron away. Another video posted on Twitter showed that the president, a few seconds later, returned to the line of onlookers and resumed shaking hands.

The local mayor, Xavier Angeli, told franceinfo radio that Macron urged his security to "leave him, leave him" as the offender was being held to the ground.

Two people were arrested, a police source told Reuters. The identify of the man who slapped Macron, and his motives, were unclear.

The slogan the man shouted has been co-opted in the past few years by royalists and people on the far-right in France, Fiametta Venner, a political scientist who studies French extremists, told broadcaster BFMTV.

Macron was on a visit to the Drome region to meet restaurateurs and students and talk about returning to a normal life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

French President Emmanuel Macron interacts with members of a crowd while visiting Valence, France June 8, 2021. Philippe Desmazes/Pool via REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists at the Hospitality school in Tain l'Hermitage, France June 8, 2021. Philippe Desmazes/Pool via REUTERS

It was one of a series of visits he is making, his aides say, to take the nation's pulse before a presidential election next year. He later continued his visit to the region.

Macron, a former investment banker, is accused by his opponents of being a part of a moneyed elite aloof from the concerns of ordinary citizens.

In part to counter those allegations, he on occasion seeks out close contact with voters in impromptu situations, but this can throw up challenges for his security detail.

Footage at the start of Tuesday's slapping incident showed Macron jogging over to the barrier where the onlookers were waiting, leaving his security detail struggling to keep up. When the slap happened, two of the security detail were at his side, but two others had only just caught up.

In an interview with the Dauphine Libere newspaper after the attack, Macron said: "You cannot have violence, or hate, either in speech or actions. Otherwise, it's democracy itself that is threatened."

"Let us not allow isolated events, ultraviolent individuals... to take over the public debate: they don't deserve it."

Macron said he had not feared for his safety, and had continued shaking hands with members of the public after he was struck. "I kept going, and I will keep going. Nothing will stop me," he said.

In 2016, Macron, who was economy minister at the time, was pelted with eggs by hard-left trade unionists during a strike against labour reforms. Macron described that incident as "par for the course" and said it would not curb his determination.

Two years later, anti-government “yellow vest” protesters heckled and booed Macron in an incident that government allies said left the president shaken.

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France

French lecturer reaches for stars with astronaut application

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Matthieu Pluvinage, a candidate to the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut selection, poses in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school where he teaches, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, June 4, 2021. Picture taken June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Lea Guedj
Matthieu Pluvinage, a candidate to the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut selection, poses in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school where he teaches, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, June 4, 2021. Picture taken June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Lea Guedj

In a break from his job teaching engineering to students in France's Normandy region, Matthieu Pluvinage (pictured) put the finishing touches on an application for a new job: astronaut, Reuters.

Pluvinage, 38, is taking advantage of a European Space Agency initiative to run an open recruitment drive for new astronauts for its manned flight programme.

While he has never been a test pilot or served in the military - typical credentials for astronauts in the past - he ticks many of the boxes in the job description.

He has a masters degree in science, he speaks English and French, he reckons he is fit enough to pass the medical, and he has a passion for space.

"There are things that make me think, 'I want to do this! It's cool!'," said Pluvinage in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school near Rouen, 140 km (90 miles) west of Paris, where he teaches.

Pluvinage has a collection of books about Thomas Pesquet, the space engineer and airline pilot who this year became the first French commander of the International Space Station.

Displayed on a computer monitor was his job application, still being drafted. He has until June 18 to submit it, and will know the result in October.

The odds are long. He has not yet even entered the recruitment process. Competition will be stiff. To succeed, Pluvinage will need to get through six selection rounds.

But he said he decided to take the risk because the next time the space agency puts out an open call for new astronauts, likely to be years from now, he may be too old.

"No matter the result, if I don't try it, I will have regrets for the rest of my life," he said.

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