Scientists in South Africa have discovered a new coronavirus variant, C.1.2, with several mutations. But they are yet to determine if it is more contagious or capable of overcoming vaccine or prior infection-induced immunity.
According to research that has yet to be peer-reviewed, the new coronavirus variant, known as C.1.2, was initially found in May. It has ever since spread to most South African provinces. Also, in seven other nations in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
It contains several mutations connected with other variants linked with greater transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies. But they appear in a different mix, and scientists aren’t clear how they affect the virus’s behavior. Antibodies are undergoing tests in the lab to see how efficiently the variation is neutralized.
South Africa was the first country to find the Beta variant. It is also one of only four that the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as “of concern”.
Beta is more likely to spread quicker than the original coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Also, there is evidence that vaccines are less effective against it. Thereby, prompting some countries to impose travel restrictions to and from South Africa.
PANDEMIC ‘FAR FROM OVER’
Richard Lessells is an infectious disease expert and one of the authors of the investigation on C.1.2. He said its rise tells us “this pandemic is far from over and that this virus is still exploring ways to potentially get better at infecting us”.
He cautioned that people should not be fearful at this point. Also, that variations with more mutations would inevitably arise as the pandemic progressed.
July is the latest month for which a large number of samples were available. Still, the C.1.2 variant was nowhere close to displacing the prevalent Delta form, according to genomic sequencing data from South Africa.
In July, 3% of samples tested positive for C.1.2, compared to 1% in June. 67% of samples detected with the Delta in June and then 89% in July.
Delta is the world’s quickest and fittest variation. It’s upending COVID-19 assumptions even as countries ease restrictions and reopen their businesses.
Based on its mutation pattern, Lessells believes C.1.2 has more immune evasion properties than Delta. Also, WHO has the reports of its findings.
The South African health department’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the study.
The COVID-19 immunization campaign in South Africa began poorly, with just about 14% of the adult population fully vaccinated thus far.