WHO warn over stalled vaccinations as European Covid cases soar
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The newly identified variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first emerged in South Africa last May as a potential variant of interest (VOIC). C.1.2 has been described as the “most mutated so far” with changes to genetic code that could make it more transmissible and potentially more dangerous. Even more worryingly, the coronavirus has already been identified in a handful of countries outside of Africa, including the UK.
According to a report pre-published on the medRxiv server, C.1.2 boasts a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year – nearly twice the rate of any other variant of concern (VOC).
The variant likely emerged in a major metropolitan area in South Africa during the first wave of the pandemic.
C.1.2 has since spread to multiple provinces and picked up a number of worrying mutations along the way.
When the coronavirus replicates within a host’s body, there is a small chance genetic changes in the virus’s code will occur.
The changes could make the virus more docile or more transmissible, as was the case with the Delta variant first identified in India.
The C.1.2 variant of coronavirus has escaped the borders of South Africa (Image: GETTY)
The C.1.2 variant was discovered in South Africa in May this year (Image: GETTY)
According to Ian M. Mackay, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at The University of Queensland, C.1.2 describes a cluster of viruses with a similar genetic makeup, rather than a single mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2.
He explained: “[Viruses] continually evolve and mutate due to selective pressures but also because of opportunity, luck and chance.
“C.1.2 has some concerning individual mutations. But we don’t really know how they’ll work together as a package.
“And it’s too early to tell how these variants will affect humans compared with other variants.”
The expert added there is no need to panic at present, as it has not spread widely yet.
So far, the variant has been identified in eight countries outside of South Africa.
The coronavirus C.1.2 has been detected outside of South Africa, including England (Image: EXPRESS)
In South Africa, the scientists behind the report said it has spread “across the majority” of the country’s provinces.
But the number of infected is low – C.1.2 only accounted for about two percent of all analysed coronavirus genomes in July.
The paper’s authors wrote: “The C.1.2 lineage was first detected in the Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces of South Africa, in May 2021.
“June 2021, it was also detected in the KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces of South Africa as well as in England and China.”
As of August 13, it has been detected in six out of nine South African provinces.
Outside of South Africa, the variant has been found in England, Switzerland, Portugal, China, Botswana, New Zealand, Mauritius and the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo.
The various Covid variants that have mutated during the pandemic (Image: EXPRESS)
The C.1.2 variant hasn’t spread to many people yet (Image: GETTY)
According to Professor Mackay, who discussed the C.1.2 variant in an article penned for The Conversation, the new variant has a number of “concerning individual mutations”.
But it is still unclear how the mutations will behave and what sort of impact – if any – they will have on the pandemic.
Professor Mackay said: “At this stage we don’t know enough about how C.1.2 behaves in humans because it hasn’t spread enough yet.
“It represents less than five percent of new cases in South Africa, and has only been found in around 100 Covid cases worldwide since May.”
He added: “It’s early days, so it’s impossible to predict what will happen to C.1.2.
“It could expand and overtake other variants, or it could fizzle and disappear.”
The variant hasn’t yet been listed by the World Health Organization as VOC.
And WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told a U N briefing yesterday that it “does not appear to be increasing in circulation”.
For the time being, the Delta variant remains the biggest threat to world security.
Maria Van Kerkhove, an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist with the WHO, has confirmed about 100 infections of C.1.2 worldwide so far.
She tweeted on August 30: “At this time, C.1.2 does not appear to be in [rising] circulation, but we need more sequencing to be conducted and shared globally.
“Delta appears dominant from available sequences.”
But C.1.2 is being closely monitored for warning signs, in case it begins to spread more widely.