As the coronavirus continues to rage across the world, a new variant, yet again, has been detected in South Africa. The C.1.2 lineage, which was first detected in May, has been found in all provinces in the country. However, Delta remains to be the dominant variant in the world.
The new variant caught the scientists’ attention because it possesses mutations within the genome similar to those seen in variants of interest and variants of concern, like the Delta variant, as well as some additional mutations. Meanwhile, WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told a UN briefing that the new strain does not appear to be increasing in circulation and it hasn’t been classified as a variant of concern.
Variants of interest cause community transmission in multiple clusters, and which have been detected in multiple countries, but have not yet necessarily proven to be more virulent or transmissible. Dr Megan Steain, a virologist, University of Sydney’s Central Clinical School, explained that it contains quite a few key mutations that has been seen in other variants of interest or concern. “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. It will take some time for scientists to do the laboratory tests to see whether the virus is in fact fitter.”
She pointed out that while it can be said that it has a few key mutations that have led to other variants being more infectious, often the mutations work in synergy together which can overall lead to a fitter virus, potentially, or a weaker virus.
The C.1.2 was flagged last week by the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in a pre-print study. NICD scientists said the new strain was only present at “very low levels” and it was too early to predict how it might evolve. It had caught scientists’ attention because its mutation is almost twice as fast as observed in other global variants.