A new COVID-19 variant, C.1.2, detected in South Africa and several other countries, has put global health experts on alarm. As per a new study that is preprint and awaits peer review, the C.1.2 variant may be more infectious and have the ability to evade COVID-19 vaccines currently available. The study, conducted by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, showed that C.1.2, first detected in May 2021, had evolved from C.1 strain which was detected last in January.
C.1.2 is “associated with increased transmissibility and reduced neutralisation sensitivity,” wrote the team, including Cathrine Scheepers, from NICD, in the abstract. Compared to C.1, the new variant has “mutated substantially” and is more mutations away from the original virus detected in Wuhan than any other Variant of Concern (VOC) or VOI detected so far worldwide. According to the study, C.1.2 has 41.8 mutations per year. It is approximately 1.7-fold faster than the current global rate and 1.8-fold faster than the initial estimate of SARS-CoV-2 evolution.
A similar short period of increased evolution was also associated with the emergence of the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma VOCs, said the researchers, suggesting that a single event, followed by the amplification of cases, drove a faster mutation rate. About 52 per cent of the spike mutations identified in C.1.2 have previously been identified in other VOIs and VOCs. These include D614G, common to all variants, and E484K and N501Y which are shared with Beta and Gamma, with E484K also seen in Eta and N501Y in Alpha.
Further, the study also found consistent increases in the number of C.1.2 genomes in South Africa on a monthly basis, rising from 0.2 per cent in May to 1.6 per cent in June and 2.0 per cent in July. The researchers stated that it is similar to the increases seen in Beta and Delta in South Africa during early detection. As of August 20, 2021, 80 sequences that match the C.1.2 lineage have been listed on the open-access database GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data). Meanwhile, India has also reported the presence of a new sub-lineage AY.12 of the Delta variant of COVID, that was recently classified in Israel. A recent report by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), many cases in India that were earlier classified as Delta, are now being reclassified as AY.12.
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