South African Scientists Say New Variant May Have ‘Increased Transmissibility’

(Bloomberg) —
new coronavirus variant
A man receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Johannesburg, South Africa, last month. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

South African scientists said they have identified a new coronavirus variant with a concerning number of mutations.

The so-called C.1.2. variant was first identified in May in the South African provinces of Mpumalanga and Gauteng, where Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, are situated, the scientists said in a research paper. By August 13, it had been found in six of South Africa’s nine provinces as well as the Congo, Mauritius, Portugal, New Zealand and Switzerland.

The mutations on the virus “are associated with increased transmissibility” and an increased ability to evade antibodies, the scientists said. “It is important to highlight this lineage given its concerning constellation of mutations.”

Changes in the virus have driven successive waves of the coronavirus with the delta variant, first found in India, now pushing up infection rates across the world. Mutations are first classified as variants of interest by the World Health Organization. Once they are identified as being more severe or transmissible, they’re termed variants of concern.

C.1.2. evolved from C.1., a lineage of the virus that dominated infections in the first wave of the virus in South Africa in mid-2020. It has between 44 and 59 mutations from the original virus detected in Wuhan, China.

The research was published by South African groups including the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, known as Krisp, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

In May, the variant accounted for 0.2% of the genomes sequenced in the country. That rose to 1.6% in June and 2% in July.

“We are currently assessing the impact of this variant on antibody neutralization” in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, the scientists said.

South African scientists also discovered the beta variant in 2020. They have stressed that while the country’s advanced ability to sequence the genomes of the virus enables the identification of new strains, they could have originated elsewhere.

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