New Variant Spotted in South Africa

South African scientists identify potential new variant

Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg | Courtesy Financial Times

South African scientists said that they had identified a potential new coronavirus variant in the country with mutations that have been seen in other, officially confirmed variants that went on to prompt global concern.

A variant arising out of a lineage known as C.1.2 “contains many mutations that have been identified” in variants such as Beta, and the more infectious Delta variant that has driven infections worldwide this year, according to a research paper by scientists including from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

C.1.2 is not yet considered an official variant of concern, like the Beta and Delta variants or the Alpha variant, first seen in the UK, or the Gamma variant, first linked to infections in Brazil. It is also not yet an official variant of interest.

The variant was first spotted in Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub, and the nearby Mpumalanga province in May, according to data. It has since been seen in other South African regions and other countries, the study, which is yet to be peer reviewed, said.

During a recent third wave in South Africa, the Delta variant quickly came to displace the previously dominant Beta variant as the main driver of infections, according to genomic sequencing data.

While the characteristics of C.1.2 are still being researched and it is not yet known how it affects immune response or if it has “replicative fitness advantage” over the Delta variant, “it is important to highlight this lineage given its concerning constellations of mutations,” the study said.

Africa’s most industrial nation has an array of academic networks and high-tech genomic sequencing labs, originally built to research HIV and tuberculosis, that give it an advantage in spotting new coronavirus variants.

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