The variant, known as C.1.2, was reported last week by the Kwazulu Natal (Krisp) Research, Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) in an as yet unpublished study.

While the majority of Covid-19 infections in South Africa are currently caused by the Delta variant - first identified in India - C.1.2 has caught the attention of scientists because it mutates almost twice as fast than the other variants already observed.

So far, C.1.2 has been detected in all South African provinces, as well as elsewhere in the world, including China, Mauritius, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

However, it is not common enough to qualify as a “variant of interest” or a “worrying variant”, as are the Delta and Beta variants - which appeared in South Africa in 2020 - both of which are highly contagious.

Too early to rule 

NICD scientists assure Monday that C.1.2 is "only present at very low levels" and that it is too early to determine its evolution.

"At this stage, we do not have any experimental data to confirm how it reacts, in terms of sensitivity to antibodies," explained Penny Moore, researcher at NICD.

But "we have considerable confidence that the vaccines distributed in South Africa will continue to protect us against severe cases and death," she added.

South Africa is the most affected country on the African continent, with 2.7 million cases so far, of which 81,830 have been fatal.

The Beta variant is at the origin of a second wave of contaminations which affected the country in December and January, now facing a third wave, dominated by the Delta variant.

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