South Africa Detects New Coronavirus Variant

Its mutations are still being studied.


Scientists in South Africa have detected a new coronavirus variant with multiple mutations. Research is ongoing to establish whether this variant is more contagious than previous variants and whether the vaccines or prior infection provide sufficient immunity.

The new variant, C.1.2, was detected in May and spread to most of South Africa and seven other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. The variant contains many mutations, including Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, associated with other variants with reduced sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies and increased transmissibility. Scientists and laboratory tests are underway to establish the virus's behavior and how well antibodies neutralize the variant. 

More mutations do not equal more danger. Some mutations can weaken the virus. One mutation may cancel out the effects of another. South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases is keeping an eye on the coronavirus variant. 

According to virologist Penny Moore from South Africa's Institute for Communicable Diseases, "the variant has been detected throughout the third wave of infections in South Africa from May 2021". Moore warned that "the identification of novel SARS-CoV-2 variants is commonly associated with new waves of infection".

At this stage, it is too early to determine whether the variant is of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). Therefore it does not yet have a Greek alphabet designation. The WHO currently has four variants of concern, which are easily transmitted and can evade tests, vaccines, and treatments. 

The technical lead on Covid-19 for WHO, Maria van Kerkhove, noted that few people who have been diagnosed with coronavirus were infected with the new variant C.1.2. "To date there are around 100 sequences of C.1.2 reported globally [it] does not appear to be rising in circulation".

The WHO will update the general population on its website and via news conferences if the new variant does rise in circulation. Currently, the new variant is being monitored and assessed, which is an essential step in understanding the evolution of the virus. 


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