Coronavirus: New COVID variant 'with multiple mutations' discovered in NZ MIQ facility in June, MOH reveals

A more mutated variant of COVID-19 than has ever been seen before was detected in New Zealand this year - and experts warn it could be more infectious and better at evading vaccines than previous strains.

The C.1.2 variant, which was first detected in South Africa in May 2021, was spotted in a returnee who arrived on our shores in late June. They were a border case and taken to a quarantine facility, and there's no evidence the variant entered the community.

Since the first case of coronavirus was found in Wuhan, China, no known COVID-19 variant has mutated as much as C.1.2.

And now a new study - by South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform - has shown it could have several advantages over other strains.

While the study is yet to be peer-reviewed, it shows C.1.2 may be more infectious than other variants, and better at evading both vaccines and immune responses.

The number of C.1.2 genomes detected monthly in South Africa has risen from 0.2 percent of total genomes sequenced in May to 1.6 percent in June and 2 percent in July. The Jerusalem Post reports this is similar to the increases seen with the Beta and Delta variants.

The researchers say C.1.2 has a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year - almost double the mutation speed of most other strains. They are still looking at whether this gives it a competitive edge over the likes of Delta and other COVID-19 strains.

The Ministry of Health does not release details on individual cases, but confirmed the genome of the returnee who carried C.1.2 into New Zealand was logged with the International GSAID database.

"All variants of concern (VoC's) are monitored closely by the Ministry and public health staff. This is one of the main reasons why ESR attempts genomes sequences on all positive samples," a ministry spokesperson told Newshub.

"While this variant may have arrived at the border the infection control measures meant that it did not enter the community. 

"New Zealand is in a fortunate position and it's important that we're able to continue to whole genome sequence all cases as this too is a crucial part of New Zealand's surveillance and elimination strategy.

"We must remain vigilant to the threat of COVID-19 and that means continuing with our current border processes, whole genome sequencing of cases and constantly reviewing our processes."

As well as New Zealand, C.1.2 has been detected in six of the nine South African provinces, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, England, Portugal and Switzerland.