Scientists are worried about a new, highly mutated strain of Covid-19 that has been discovered in Southern France.
Twelve patients have so far tested positive with the new “atypical” strain.
While new versions of the virus are being discovered all the time, scientists become concerned when a strain has numerous – potentially vaccine dodging – mutations.
This determines whether it will be a variant of concern, like Omicron was at the end of November last year.
The index case had returned from travelling to Cameroon, suggesting to experts that it may have originated in the African country.
In a preprint paper, that is yet to be peer reviewed, experts from a French government-back programme said they had identified "46 mutations" in the variant.
The variant has been given the name B.1.640.2.
Its presence was first detected by experts at the IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille.
They announced on their Twitter earlier this month that they had detected a new variant in COVID-19 patients from Forcalquier, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region.
The fact that it is a new variant does not necessarily mean it will be more dangerous than Delta or Alpha.
What makes a variant more well-known and dangerous is its ability to multiply because of the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus.
It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall.
But in the new paper, dated December 29, scientists said: "SARS-CoV-2 variants have become a major virological, epidemiological and clinical concern, particularly with regard to the risk of escape from vaccine-induced immunity."
It comes as France slashed the isolation period or vaccinated people in a bid to ease the financial and social burdens of the outbreak.
Self-isolation times for fully vaccinated people who test positive will drop from 10 days to seven on Monday – and can be cut down to five days with a negative test result.
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Health Minister Olivier Véran said: "Unvaccinated people will have to isolate themselves for 10 days, with a possible exit after seven days under the same conditions.
France reported 219,126 new infections on Saturday and became the sixth country in the world to surpass 10 million total recorded cases of COVID-19.
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