South Africa Reports New Coronavirus Variant

COVID variant
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Scientists in South Africa have detected a new coronavirus variant, called the C.1.2, with a possibility of increased transmissibility.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently has four designated variants of concern (VOC): Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. The Delta variant has now become the dominant strain across the world, accounting for increased hospitalizations and breakthrough infections. Similar to the rest of the world, South Africa has also been hit hard by the new wave of infections caused by the Delta variant. However, it seems a new strain might be evolving in the country. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), South Africa is currently monitoring a new coronavirus variant with a concerning number of mutations.

Called the C.1.2 variant, the strain was first identified in May 2021. Although it initially presented in only a few South African provinces, it has now spread to all the country’s provinces. What’s concerning is how fast its frequency has risen; from 0.2 per cent in May to 2 per cent of genomes sequenced last month.

It has only been detected in around 100 genomes, a very low number. It’s still a very small percentage, but again we are really keeping a good eye on that. It has all of the signatures of immune escape.

Tulio de Oliveira, study author

The C.1.2 Lineage

Since its discovery, the C.1.2 variant has spread to multiple countries across the world including China, England, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

According to a pre-print study the new variant evolved from the C.1 lineage that initially dominated South Africa during the first wave of infections. It last occurred in the country in January 2021. Moreover, the variant contains mutations similar to those seen in other coronavirus VOC and variants of interest (VOI). These mutations can increase the virus’s transmissibility and help it evade antibodies. The study further added that C.1.2 shares a few common mutations with the Beta and Delta variants.

However, the variant is not frequent enough to be classified as a VOI or VOC. Researchers are currently keeping a close eye on it to assess its impact.

At this stage, we do not have experimental data to confirm how it reacts in terms of sensitivity to antibodies. [But] we have considerable confidence that the vaccines that are being rolled out in South Africa will continue to protect us against severe illness and death.

Penny Moore, NICD Researcher

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)


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