A new coronavirus variant has been dubbed the “most mutated so far” and could be more infectious and evade vaccines, scientists have warned.
The C.1.2 strain was first identified in South Africa in May and has been linked to “increased transmissibility”.
According to experts at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the strain has a mutation rate of about 41.8 per year.
In their report, which was published in the Nature journal, the researchers followed the strain’s genomes in South Africa over this year.
It showed a short period of steady increase, jumping from 0.2 per cent in May to 2 per cent in July.
This is similar to the increase seen in the Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants.
The scientists added that more research is needed to assess the impact of these mutations, but the scientists warned this ‘substantially’ mutated variant could help the virus avoid our immune responses.
The scientists wrote: “We describe and characterise a newly identified SARS-CoV-2 lineage with several spike mutations that is likely to have emerged in a major metropolitan area in South Africa after the first wave of the epidemic, and then to have spread to multiple locations within two neighbouring provinces.
“We show that this lineage has rapidly expanded and become dominant in three provinces, at the same time as there has been a rapid resurgence in infections.
“Although the full import of the mutations is not yet clear, the genomic and epidemiological data suggest that this variant has a selective advantage—from increased transmissibility, immune escape or both.
“These data highlight the urgent need to refocus the public health response in South Africa on driving transmission down to low levels, not only to reduce hospitalisations and deaths but also to limit the spread of this lineage and the further evolution of the virus.”
The C.1.2 strain is among ten variants being monitored by UK scientists, Public Health England said.