The variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, named C.1.2, was first detected in May in South Africa. Since then, it has been found in seven other countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland, according to a study recently posted as a pre-print which has not been peer-reviewed yet for publication in an academic journal.
They are also working to confirm if the additional mutations will make the variant spread more or less effectively. The World Health Organization is currently tracking four variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. There are also five variants of interest being tracked closely by the WHO. Variant C.1.2 does not fall under either category.
The delta variant remains the dominant form of the coronavirus in South Africa, but experts are keeping an eye on C.1.2. It is not yet a variant of concern or interest with the World Health Organization. Experts are paying attention to it because of its similarities to previous variants like delta and its additional mutations.
It contains quite a few key mutations that we see in other variants that have gone on to become variants of interest or concern,” said Megan Steain of University of Sydney’s Central Clinical School to The Guardian. “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.
What we know of this new variant so far:
The variant is scientifically known as B.1.621 and was classified as a variant of interest in August, 2021
The WHO said its global prevalence has declined to below 0.1 percent among sequenced cases. In Colombia, however, it is at 39 percent
The variant might have immune escape properties as it has a constellation of mutations
The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further
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According to the scientists, the mutation rate is double from the current and other variants. The mutation rate is about 41.8 mutations per year, if calculated, which is double and fast than the current global mutation rate. Vaccines are not effective either in this variant, according to the scientist. According to studies, the mutation can breach antibodies and the immune system.
But certain mutations can impact the properties of a virus and influence how easily it spreads, the severity of the disease it causes, and its resistance to vaccines, drugs and other countermeasures.
The WHO currently identifies four COVID-19 variants of concern, including Alpha, which is present in 193 countries, and Delta, present in 170 countries.
There isn’t any direct threat from this new variant as it has not yet entered India. However, this new variant has been recorded in countries like Mauritius, England, New Zealand and China. It may likely come to India too with the easing of travel restrictions.