South Africa detects new variant of coronavirus and studies mutations

Scientists in South Africa have detected a new variant of the coronavirus with several mutations, but have not yet determined whether it is more contagious or capable of overcoming immunity provided by vaccines or a previous infection.

3D Model of Sars-Cov-2 03/19/2020 NIH/Disclosure via REUTERS

3D Model of Sars-Cov-2 03/19/2020 NIH/Disclosure via REUTERS

Photo: Reuters

The new variant, known as C.1.2, was first detected in May and has already spread to most South African provinces and seven other countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania, according to research not yet submitted to review by the scientific community.

It contains many mutations associated with other variants with marked transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies, but these occur in a different mix, and scientists are still not sure how they affect the virus’s behavior. Laboratory tests are underway to determine how well the variant is neutralized by antibodies.

South Africa was the first country to detect the Beta variant, one of only four classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “variants of concern”.

Beta is believed to spread more easily than the original version of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, and there is evidence that vaccines have less of an effect against it, leading some countries to restrict travel to and from Africa southern.

Richard Lessells, an infectious disease expert and one of the authors of the C.1.2 research, said the emergence of this shows that “this pandemic is far from over and that this virus is still exploring ways to possibly get better at infecting us.”