Scientists studying immune response to new South African Covid variant

·2-min read

Scientists in South Africa have detected a new coronavirus variant with multiple mutations, but they have yet to establish whether it is more contagious or if it can overcome immunity provided by vaccines or prior infection.

The new variant, known as C.1.2, was first detected in May and caught scientists' attention because it mutates almost twice as fast other variants.

Researchers, in a preprint study that has yet to be peer reviewed, say it evolved from one of the lineages that dominated the first Covid wave in South Africa, last detected in January 2021.

C.1.2 has mutations associated in other variants with increased transmissibility, as well as a reduced sensitivity to Covid antibodies.

But it is not yet clear on how the mutations affect the behaviour of the virus, and laboratory tests are underway.

Richard Lessells, one of the study's authors, said C.1.2 may have more immune evasion properties than Delta, the predominant variant in the world currently, and that the findings had been flagged to the World Health Organisation.

Cases as far away as New Zealand

The variant shows that "this pandemic is far from over and that this virus is still exploring ways to potentially get better at infecting us", he said, adding that the research should not be alarming at this stage, as variants with more mutations are bound to emerge as the pandemic progresses.

South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases issued an alert Monday, saying the variant had been detected in all nine of the country's provinces, but at a relatively low rate, though it is rising.

C.1.2 was detected in three percent of samples in July, up from 0.2 percent when it was first detected in May.

It is is still not frequent enough to qualify as a "variant of interest" or a "variant of concern", though it has travelled, with researchers pointing to cases detected in China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Britain.

(with wires)

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