New Coronavirus Variant Keeps South African Researchers On The Go

Genetics researchers who have been looking for new variants of the coronavirus say they have found a worrying new strain that carries many of the same characteristics as other strains, including Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

The variant they are looking at, called C.1.2, has appeared across South Africa as well as seven other countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the researchers report.

They’re still not sure whether the mutations could make the strain more dangerous, but C.1.2 carries changes that have given other strains greater transmissibility and the ability to evade the immune system’s response at some level.

Having more mutations doesn’t necessarily mean more danger – some mutations can weaken a virus and it’s the combination of changes that can define whether a virus becomes more efficient.

The researchers further explain that one extra mutation can cancel out the effects of another.

But the team, which includes virologist Penny Moore of South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases, says they are following this closely.

“We are currently evaluating the impact of this variant on antibody neutralization following SARS-CoV-2 infection or SARS-CoV-2 vaccination in South Africa,” the researchers wrote in a report, published online as a pre- print – still without peer review.

“This variant was detected during the third wave of infections in South Africa from May 2021 onwards and was detected in seven other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. The identification of new SARS-CoV-2 variants is commonly associated with new waves of infection.”

It is too early for the variant to be designated as a variant of interest or variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), so it does not yet have a Greek alphabet designation.

WHO currently cites four worrisome variants that are more easily transmitted, affect disease severity or prevent testing, vaccines or treatments: Alpha or B.1.1.7; Beta or B.1.351; Gamma or P.1; and Delta or B.1.617.2.
Variants of interest, which have troubling mutations and have caused groups of diseases, include Eta or B.1,525; Iota or B.1.526; Kappa or B.1.617.1 and Lambda or C.37, according to WHO.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO Covid-19 technical leader, noted that very few people diagnosed with coronavirus were infected with the C.1.2 variant.

“To date, there are about 100 C.1.2 sequences reported globally, the first reports are from May 21 from South Africa,” she said on Twitter.

“Right now, C.1.2 doesn’t seem to be increasing in circulation,” she added. Kerkhove said WHO will update people on its website and through a press conference if that changes.

South African nurse takes care of an inpatient with coronavirus
Nurse takes care of an inpatient after contracting a new coronavirus variant / Photo: Reuters

“The monitoring and evaluation of variants is ongoing and extremely important to understand the evolution of this virus in fighting Covid-19 and adapting strategies as needed,” she added. So far, the Delta variant is still dominant, said Van Kerkhove.

Some variants, such as Alpha and Delta, quickly spread to become the dominant variants in much of the world.

Others have spread more regionally, including Beta and Gamma. Other strains look worrisome but have only caused sporadic outbreaks.

Michael Nedelman, from CNN, contributed to this report.
(This text is a translation. To read the original, in English, click here)