Is Covid-19 Pi variant here? Scientists claim mutation from Cameroon MAY be vaccine-buster

At least 12 cases have been recorded near Marseille, with the first said to be linked to travel to the African country Cameroon


                            Is Covid-19 Pi variant here? Scientists claim mutation from Cameroon MAY be vaccine-buster
People queue outside a Covid-19 vaccination center, on April 7, 2021, in Saint-Denis, France (Photo by Siegfried Modola/Getty Images)

Scientists have revealed that another possible Covid variant has been discovered in France. The mutant strain, which could potentially be dubbed the 'Pi' variant, reportedly has 46 mutations that make it more vaccine-resistant and infectious than the original pathogen.

At least 12 cases have been recorded near Marseille, with the first said to be linked to travel to the African country Cameroon. However, there's no sign at this point that it is more dangerous than the dominant Omicron variant, which is said to make up more than 60 percent of the cases in France at the time of publication. The strain was first discovered by scientists at the IHU Mediterranee Infection on December 10 but has not spread rapidly since. It's worth noting that no other country has spotted the mutation and it hasn't officially been labeled a variant under investigation by the World Health Organization.

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"We indeed have several cases of this new variant in the Marseille geographical area," said Professor Philippe Colson, who leads the IHU unit that discovered the strain. "We named it 'variant IHU'. Two new genomes have just been submitted," he added. 

The new variant has been named B.1.640.2 per a paper posted on medRxiv that is yet to be published in an academic journal. According to scientists, the lineage is genetically different to B.1.640, a variant said to have emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo in September. The first patient or the index case was reportedly a vaccinated adult who had returned to France from a trip to Cameroon. He developed mild respiratory symptoms three days after returning and a nasopharyngeal sample collected mid-November 2021, "revealed an atypical combination that did not correspond to the pattern of the Delta variant involved in almost all SARS-CoV-2 infections at that time", and later to Omicron as well, according to Colson. However, "it is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological, or clinical features of this IHU variant based on these 12 cases," he added.

Tourists flock to the Eiffel Tower on New Year's Day on January 01, 2022, in Paris, France. France welcomes the New Year with surging COVID-19 cases and will see presidential elections in April as well as the current French president, Emmanuel Macron, taking over the presidency of the European Union. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

Tests carried out by researchers found the strain was carrying the E484K mutation, which reportedly makes it more resistant to the vaccines currently in circulation. Scientists also found an N501Y mutation — first recorded on the Alpha variant — that can potentially make it more transmissible. Furthermore, it's said to be a distant relative of Omicron, which likely evolved from an older virus.

Colson said the data is "another example of the unpredictability of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants." He added, "Overall, these observations show once again the unpredictability of the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction from abroad, and they exemplify the difficulty to control such introduction and subsequent spread." Omicron — officially dubbed B.1.1.529 — has around 50 mutations and is known to infect people who already have some form of immunity from the virus. Current research, however, indicates it's also much less likely to cause severe symptoms.

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