'Most mutated Covid variant so far' detected in South Africa may already be EXTINCT, scientist claims

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A new Covid variant which has been branded the 'most mutated so far' may already be extinct, it was claimed today.

Concerns were raised that the mutant strain — dubbed C.1.2 — could be more infectious than other variants and better able to evade vaccines.

But experts said today there was no sign the mutant strain had managed to gain a foothold in South Africa — where it was first identified — or any other country.

The director of University College London's genetics institute Professor Francois Balloux said the variant 'shows no evidence of increasing in frequency'.

He added that it 'may be extinct by now'.

There have been only 101 cases of the mutant strain since it was discovered four months ago, according to Covid variant tracking platform GISAID.

South Africa has spotted 89 cases of the mutant variant, with the last infection recorded in the first week of August. 

Britain has recorded four cases of the variant. 

But all known mutant strains circulating in the UK are currently being outcompeted by the Indian 'Delta' variant, which is behind almost every infection. 

Public Health England began monitoring C.1.2 at the start of the month, but it has not labelled it a 'variant of concern' (VOC) or a 'variant under investigation' (VUI).

It suggests experts are not overly worried by the strain. 

Scientists said today that the C.1.2 variant may already be extinct. Pictured above is a graph showing the seven-day average for cases of the variant recorded globally (black line). There have been only 101 infections with the mutant strain to date according to variant tracking platform GISAID, which have not made up more than 0.1 per cent of all infections. Most recently, the proportion of cases down to this variant fell to zero - but this could change in the coming days

This graph shows the seven-day average case numbers of the C.1.2 variant in the UK (black line), and the 95 per cent confidence interval (pink). Britain has recorded four cases of the variant so far, but the variant has not made up more than 0.02 per cent of cases

The above graph shows Covid cases per million people in Britain and South Africa — where the mutant strain originated. South Africa is checking 20 per cent of its 10,000 daily infections for mutant strains, compared to just over 10 per cent of 30,000 cases in Britain


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What is the variant C.1.2?

Should I be concerned?

Some scientists have raised fears the variant could be more transmissible than other mutant strains and able to dodge vaccine triggered immunity.

But there is no evidence to definitively say this is the case.

Nor is there any proof that the strain is spreading rapidly or gaining a foothold in any country.

The variant was first spotted four months ago but to date there have been only 101 cases. The latest was spotted ten days ago.

Where have the cases been detected?

The mutant strain was first spotted in South Africa.

This country has recorded almost nine in ten of all infections recorded, but it has not seen a single infection with the variant since the first week of August.

It checks roughly 20 per cent of all cases for variants, compared to just over 10 per cent in the UK.

Britain has spotted four cases to date, with the last recorded on August 20.

Switzerland has recorded two cases, with the last registered in mid-July.

Mauritius, Portugal, China, and New Zealand have all recorded one case. The latest the virus was spotted in these countries was mid-July. 

Can the strain dodge vaccine triggered immunity?

The mutant strain carries several mutations including E484K.

Scientists raised concerns that this mutation could make vaccines less effective after it was spotted on the South African 'Beta' variant.

But there is no evidence at present that the strain is dodging jabs and gaining a foothold in any country.

The mutant variant sparked concern after a study on it was published as a pre-print on the website medRxiv.

The scientists - whose work has yet to be reviewed by other experts - claimed the strain had 'substantially mutated' from the original Wuhan virus identified in 2019.

Its key mutations included N501Y, which was credited with making the Kent 'Alpha' variant more transmissible, and E484K, which scientists say helps the South African 'Beta' variant to evade vaccine-triggered immunity.

It also has the mutation D614G, which is believed to make the virus more transmissible.

The scientists said in their paper that the mutant strain emerged in a metropolitan area of South Africa, before spreading to other provinces in the country. 

They added that it appears to be mutating at almost twice the rate of any other variant, at a rate of 41.8 mutations a year.

Harvard University epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding said the variant had mutated so fast it was the 'furthest mutated variant found to date'.

But hitting back at the claims, \Professor Balloux said it was 'ridiculous' to raise concerns over the variant at present.

He pointed to data showing very few cases of the variant have been detected to date across the world, despite the numerous Covid surveillance schemes. 

Professor Balloux added: 'The C.1.2 lineage is not considered a variant of concern (VOC) or a variant under investigation (VUI).'

South Africa has recorded 89 cases of the variant to date, although none have been spotted since mid-August.

Britain's last case was detected on August 20, more than a week ago. 

Switzerland has recorded two cases, with the last registered in mid-July.

Mauritius, Portugal, China, and New Zealand have all recorded one case. The latest the virus was spotted in these countries was mid-July.  

South Africa is checking 20 per cent of its Covid cases for mutant variants every week, according to the latest report from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa.

It is recording around 10,000 cases a day on average as its third wave continues to subside.

In Britain scientists are checking around 10 per cent of 30,000 daily infections for variants, according to Public Health England.

Several Covid variants have already been drowned out in Britain, after being driven out by Alpha and then Delta. 

PHE considers a variant as 'provisionally extinct' if there have been no cases of it recorded in Britain or elsewhere in the world for 12 weeks.

The Liverpool variant (A.23.1 with E484K), the Bristol variant (B.1.1.7 with E484K) and the and the Antigua variant (B.1.324.1 with E484K) have all already been listed as extinct.

There are more than 400 different Covid variants to date, according to Pangolin.

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