C.1.2 not yet a variant of concern - NICD

Professor Penny Moore said that the C.1.2. was at a low frequency currently - between 2% and 3% of infections - but this was gradually increasing month by month and that it was for this reason that they were watching the situation closely.

FILE: A hospital worker walks amongst patients in the COVID-19 ward at Khayelitsha Hospital, about 35km from the centre of Cape Town, on 29 December 2020. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN - Researchers are investigating a new variant with multiple mutations in South Africa.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has reported the identification of a potential variant of interest called C.1.2.

The NICD said that the lineage was first found in the country during the third wave in May this year.

It said that the Delta variant continued to cause the majority of infections in the country.

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Professor Penny Moore said that the C.1.2. was at a low frequency currently - between 2% and 3% of infections - but this was gradually increasing month by month and that it was for this reason that they were watching the situation closely.

"It is doing to some extent what Delta did at the beginning of the second wave. It's impossible, it's crystal ball stuff and we've learned not to predict what variants do. We are watching it carefully, we are counting the number of genomes, we are counting where the genomes are."

Moore said they did not have much hard data at present on this specific variant but there's a lot of data on other variants.

"Some of these mutations are mutations that we know and we know the effect and durations on the virus and despite the increased mutations in this variant, the vaccines that we have will still protect against severe disease."

Principal medical scientist at the NICD, Dr Jinal Bhiman, said that the C.1.2. was a variant of concern as it had mutations that were shared with other variants.

"Yes it is a variant but it is not yet a variant of concern or a variant of interest but it has the potential to become one. It will really only become one when it is more widely dispersed."

Professor Adrian Puren said that regardless of the variant at this stage, there was no real need to reconsider the current lockdown restrictions.

"It's going to be more or less round what is happening in the provinces where it is a more heterogeneous resurgence that we're currently experiencing. It's more likely that our focus is going to be around what we're doing in any particular province but it is not going to be influenced by the current variant."

The C.1.2 variant has been detected in most provinces.

The NCID said that vaccination remained critical as there was a high risk of hospitalisation and death, while efforts must be made to reduce strain on the health system and to help slow transmission.

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