Scientists in South Africa are keeping an eye on a novel coronavirus strain that has an extremely high mutation rate and has been increasing in frequency in recent months, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
The variant, known as C.1.2., was discovered last week in a preprint research that has yet to be peer reviewed by the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation and Sequencing Platform.
While the Delta variety, which was first discovered in India, is responsible for the bulk of coronavirus cases in South Africa, C.1.2. attracted scientists’ attention since its mutation rate is nearly twice that of other global variants.
It has been spotted in less than three percent of genomes sequenced since it was initially discovered in May, however this has increased from 0.2 to two percent last month.
C.1.2. was only “present at extremely low levels” on Monday, according to NICD experts, and it was too early to determine how it may evolve.
NICD researcher Penny Moore noted during a virtual press briefing that “at this moment we do not have experimental evidence to confirm how it reacts in terms of antibody sensitivity.”
“However, we have high confidence that the vaccines being put out in South Africa will continue to protect us against serious disease and debilitation,” she says.
C.1.2 has been found in all nine of South Africa’s provinces, as well as in China, Mauritius, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
It is not common enough to be considered a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern,” as the highly transmissible Delta and Beta variants that appeared in South Africa late last year.
With almost 2.7 million Covid cases identified to far, South Africa is the continent’s worst-affected country, with at least 81,830 fatalities.
In December and January, the Beta variety caused a second wave of infections, and the country is now dealing with a persistent third Delta-dominated wave that is expected to coincide with a major outbreak.