Scientists have yet to determine whether the new variant is more contagious or capable of overcoming immunity through stinging.
South African scientists have discovered a new coronavirus variant with multiple mutations, but have yet to determine whether it is more contagious or capable of overcoming the immunity afforded by vaccines or previous infection, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
The variant, known as C.1.2, was flagged last week by the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation and Sequencing Platform in a preprint study pending peer review. NICD scientists said Monday that C.1.2 was only “present at very low levels” and that it was too early to predict how it might evolve.
While most cases of coronavirus in South Africa are currently caused by the Delta variant – first discovered in India – C.1.2 caught the attention of scientists because its mutation is almost twice as fast as observed in other global variants. .
However, its frequency remains relatively low and it has so far been detected in less than 3 percent of sequenced genomes since it was first picked up in May – although this has increased from 0.2 percent to 2 percent last month. .
“At this stage, we have no experimental data to confirm how it responds in terms of antibody sensitivity,” NICD researcher Penny Moore said at a virtual news conference.
“[But] we are very confident that the vaccines being rolled out in South Africa will continue to protect us from serious illness and death,” she added.
So far, C.1.2 has been found in all nine provinces of South Africa, as well as other parts of the world, including China, Mauritius, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
However, it is not common enough to qualify as a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern” like the highly transmissible Delta and Beta variants, which emerged in South Africa late last year.
South Africa is the continent’s worst affected country with more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 reported so far, with at least 81,830 fatalities.
The beta variant sparked a second wave of infections in December and January, and the country is now grappling with an ongoing third Delta-dominated wave that is expected to overlap with an impending fourth.