Even as C.1.2, a new and deadlier variant of COVID-19, first reported in South Africa, has made its way to Asia, the Centre has said that it has not been detected in India so far. However, as the threat still looms, here’s all we need to know about the variant.
What is C.1.2?
First detected in South Africa in May this year, the new variant, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), has spread to six other countries – China, Mauritius, England, New Zealand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Portugal and Switzerland – as of August 13.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa on Monday issued an alert on the C.1.2 lineage by stating that it has been detected in all the provinces of the country, but the spread has been relatively low. The variant is also suspected to be highly infectious and evasive against vaccines.
It, however, is yet to be categorised as that of concern or interest by WHO.
Why is it concerning?
It is concerning because of the few mutations that the variant shares in common with variants of interest and concern.
“Any time we see those particular mutations come up, we’d like to keep an eye on the variant to see what it’s going to do. These mutations may affect things like whether it evades the immune response, or transmits faster,” Dr Megan Steain, virologist and lecturer in immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Sydney’s Central Clinical School told The Guardian.
Scientists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) said the variant has 40-59 mutations more than the Wuhan virus.
They say the variant has 14 mutations in its spike protein including N501Y, E484K and Y144del – found in variants of interest and variants of concern. Besides, it shares the T478K mutation with the infectious Delta variant. The speed of evolution of C.1.2 is 1.8 times faster than average.
Quoting a study, the public health body of the United Nations has said that the variant could be more infectious and have potential to evade vaccines.
Dr Maria Van Kerhove, the technical head of WHO has said that while the variant reported 100 sequences from South Africa as of May 2021, the same does not seem to appear to be “increasing in circulation”.
“But we need more sequencing to be conducted and shared globally,” she added.
Odds of survival
Scientists, however, are still working to find if the variant will grow into a fitter virus or a weaker virus. A fitter virus is one that gains mutations to replicate faster and invade cells more efficiently. The Delta variant is one such fitter version. The mutants in fitter variants often help them overgrow past variants.
Steain says there is a possibility that C.1.2 may die out as a weak variant as by now it would have been “pretty good, pretty fit, and pretty fast to outcompete Delta at this stage.” But nothing is conclusive as yet.
“A virus is more than just the sum of its mutations. In other words, simply because more mutations are found in a variant, it does not mean that this virus necessarily has enormous capabilities to bypass our immune system, or to replicate faster, or both,” Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, member of National Task Force, IMA for coronavirus epidemic told India Today.
Will vaccines work against C.1.2?
Considering that mutations N440K and Y449H, associated with immune escape from certain antibodies, have been found in C.1.2, scientist predict it to follow a pattern of vaccine evasion similar to the Beta and Delta variants.
“…perhaps, the serum won’t neutralise as well as it would against an ancestral strain. But until we actually do those experiments it’s speculative really. We’ve got to bear in mind that the vaccine so far looks like it’s holding up really, really well in terms of preventing severe infection and hospitalisations and deaths from variants. They’re really good at preventing that,” Steain said, adding that there is no need to panic.