South Africa discovers new coronavirus variant and is still investigating its mutations

  • C.1.2 contains mutations that are present in WHO variants of concern
  • Scientists run laboratory tests to learn more about variants
  • Still seems to make up a small fraction of the South African cases

JOHANNESBURG, Aug. 30 (Reuters) – South African scientists have discovered a new variant of the coronavirus with multiple mutations, but are yet to determine whether it is more contagious or can overcome immunity through vaccines or previous infection.

The new variant, known as C.1.2, was first discovered in May and has spread to most South African provinces as well as seven other countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania after studies that have not yet been reviewed.

It contains many mutations that in other variants are linked to increased transmissibility and decreased sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies, but they occur in a different mix and scientists are not yet sure how they affect the behavior of the virus. Laboratory tests are used to check how well the variant is neutralized by antibodies.

South Africa was the first country to discover the beta variant, one of only four to be classified as “of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Beta is believed to spread more easily than the original version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and there is evidence that vaccines are less effective against it, causing some countries to restrict travel to and from South Africa.


Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist and one of the authors of the research on C.1.2, said his appearance shows us that “this pandemic is far from over and that this virus is still looking for ways to possibly infect us better”.

People queue outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center as the country introduces vaccinations for anyone aged 18 and over on August 20, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. REUTERS / Mike Hutchings / File Photo

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He said people shouldn’t be unduly concerned at this point and that variants with more mutations would inevitably continue to show up in the pandemic.

Genomic sequencing data from South Africa show that in July, the last month for which a large number of samples were available, the C.1.2 variant was far from displacing the dominant Delta variant.

In July, C.1.2 accounted for 3% of the samples compared to 1% in June, while Delta accounted for 67% in June and 89% in July.

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Lessells said that C.1.2 may have more immune evasion properties than Delta due to its mutation pattern, and that the results have been reported to WHO.

A spokesman for the South African Ministry of Health did not want to comment on the study.

South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has started slowly with only about 14% of the adult population being fully vaccinated to date.

Reporting by Alexander Winning Editing by Tim Cocks and Gareth Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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