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What Is New COVID Variant C.1.2 That Could Evade Vaccination? WHO Says It’s Not Spreading

New Delhi: C.1.2, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, first found in South Africa and now in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, England, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland could be more transmissible and evade protection provided by vaccines, according to study.

Scientists from National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) in South Africa said the potential variant of interest, C.1.2, was first detected in the country in May this year.

According to the yet-to-be peer-reviewed study posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv on August 24, C.1.2 has mutated substantially compared to C.1, one of the lineages which dominated the SARS-CoV-2 infections in the first wave in South Africa.

The new variant has more mutations than other variants of concern (VOCs) or variants of interest (VOIs) detected worldwide so far, the researchers said.

They noted that the number of available sequences of C.1.2 may be an underrepresentation of the spread and frequency of the variant in South Africa and around the world.

The study found consistent increases in the number of C.1.2 genomes in South Africa each month, rising from 0.2 per cent of genomes sequenced in May to 1.6 per cent in June and then to 2 per cent in July.

“This is similar to the increases seen with the Beta and Delta variants in the country during early detection,” the authors of the study were quoted as saying, as reported by the print.in.

According to the study, C.1.2 lineage has a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year, which is about twice as fast as the current global mutation rate of the other variants. Over half of the C.1.2 sequences have 14 mutations, but additional variations have been noticed in some of the sequences.

“Though these mutations occur in the majority of C.1.2 viruses, there is additional variation within the spike region of this lineage, suggesting ongoing intra-lineage evolution,” the authors of the study noted.

About 52 per cent of the mutations in the spike region of the C.1.2 sequences have previously been seen in other VOCs and VOIs.

They noted that these mutations together with changes in other parts of the virus likely help the virus evade antibodies, and immune response, including in patients who have already developed antibodies for the Alpha or Beta variants.

“While the phenotypic characteristics and epidemiology of C.1.2 are being defined, it is important to highlight this lineage given its concerning constellations of mutations,” the authors added.

Amid the scare, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday that it was monitoring the variant as the virus evolves but it does not appear to be spreading.

“It does not appear to be increasing in circulation,” WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told a U.N. briefing, adding the variant labelled C.1.2. was not currently classified as a “variant of concern” by the U.N. health agency.

Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday said special arrangements will be made at airports to screen visitors from nations where the C.1.2 variant has been detected. They will be subjected to RT-PCR tests on arrival here and if necessary, they would be quarantined, the CM said in the COVID review meeting.