New COVID-19 variant similar to Delta detected in South Africa

A new COVID-19 variant has been detected in South Africa, with scientists’ saying it possesses mutations similar to the Delta variant.

South African scientists have identified a new COVID-19 variant that could be more transmissible than previously detected variants.

On August 30, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa released a study about the new variant, known as C.1.2, saying it had been detected in all provinces of the country at a relatively low rate.

C.1.2 COVID-19 variant
Image: Boston Globe

C.1.2 is highly mutated beyond C.1 and all other VOCs (Variants of Concern) and VOIs (Variants of Interest) globally with between 44-59 mutations away from the original Wuhan Hu-1 virus,” the NICD said in the report. 

We are currently assessing the impact of this variant on antibody neutralization following SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa.”

According to the report, the variant was first detected in May and has since been detected in seven other countries within Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

The C.1.2 lineage has drawn the attention of scientists because it possesses mutations within the genome similar to those seen in VOCs and VOIs, like the Delta variant, as well as some additional mutations.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not yet listed C.1.2 as a VOC or VOI as the virus has not fulfilled the criteria, which includes a variant having been identified to cause community transmission in multiple clusters.

It does not appear to be increasing in circulation,” said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris in a statement.

According to Dr Megan Steain, a virologist and lecturer in immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Sydney’s Central Clinical School, the new variant was flagged because of the particular mutations that C.1.2 contains

It contains quite a few key mutations that we see in other variants that have gone on to become variants of interest or concern,” said Dr Steain.

Any time we see those particular mutations come up, we’d like to keep an eye on the variant to see what it’s going to do. These mutations may affect things like whether it evades the immune response, or transmits faster.”

South Africa’s NIDC said that despite C.1.2’s suspected ability to partially evade the immune response, “vaccines will still offer high levels of protection against hospitalization and death“.