South Africa warns of new C.1.2 coronavirus variant | Science | In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 01.09.2021

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South Africa warns of new C.1.2 coronavirus variant

A new coronavirus variant showing similar mutations to the highly transmissible alpha, beta and gamma variants is spreading throughout South Africa.

A hospital worker and COVID patient at a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa

C.1.2 appears to be responsible for at least 2-3% of COVID cases in South Africa

Researchers in South Africa are closely monitoring a new SARS-CoV-2 variant that shows similar features to highly transmissible variants of concern.

In a study awaiting peer review, scientists found the new variant, called C.1.2, contains some mutations seen in other variants, such as alpha, beta and gamma, that spread faster and wider and are not as responsive to current vaccines.

It is not yet known how C.1.2's combination of mutations affects the behavior of the virus exactly, said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa who contributed to the study.

"We are monitoring how it is spreading and doing the laboratory studies to understand whether this combination of mutations has an important functional effect on the virus — particularly in terms of enhanced transmissibility or partial immune evasion," Lessells told DW.

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Not widespread yet

C.1.2 has been detected in six out of nine provinces in South Africa, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, England, China, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland.

It was first identified in May 2021 and evolved from C.1 — one of the lineages that dominated the first wave of coronavirus infections in South Africa. C1 has not been detected in South Africa since January 2021, the study noted.

Based on recent sampling, C.1.2 only accounts for about 2 to 3% of genomes in South Africa's surveillance program, said Lessells, while delta is responsible for more than 90% of infections in the country, according to data from the data-sharing initiative GISAID.

"There is no evidence at the moment that [C.1.2] is spreading widely in any other location outside South Africa," Lessells told DW.

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A reminder for vaccine equity

Researchers say it is still unclear whether the C.1.2 variant will become more problematic.

But it is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over in many parts of the world and new variants will emerge wherever the virus is spreading at high levels.

"That's why we push the point about a global response and particularly vaccine equity — the importance of getting vaccines into arms across the world," Lessells told DW.

Based on the scientists' understanding of the genetic mutations in C.1.2, they would still expect the available vaccines to protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death, the scientist added.

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