South African scientists have detected a new coronavirus variant with multiple mutations but are yet to establish whether it is more contagious or able to overcome the immunity provided by vaccines or prior infection.
The new variant, known as C.1.2, was first detected in May and has now spread to most South African provinces and to seven other countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania, according to research which is yet to be peer-reviewed.
It contains many mutations associated in other variants with increased transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies, but they occur in a different mix and scientists are not yet sure how they affect the behaviour of the virus. Laboratory tests are underway to establish how well the variant is neutralised by antibodies.
South Africa was the first country to detect the Beta variant, one of only four labelled “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 vaccines work less well against it, leading some countries to restrict travel to and from South Africa.