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A health worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 17, 2021. Source: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters.
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  • South African scientists have discovered a new coronavirus variant with several mutations, but are yet to establish whether it’s more contagious
  • Known as C.1.2, it was first detected in May and has since spread across most South African provinces and to seven other countries
  • It features a number of mutations that have previously been associated with increased transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to antibodies
  • The emergence of the new variant, according to scientists, suggests the pandemic is still far from over

South African scientists have discovered a new coronavirus variant with several mutations, but are yet to establish whether it’s more contagious or able to overcome the immunity provided by vaccines or past infection.

Known as C.1.2, it was first detected in May and has since spread across 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.

The new variant features a number of mutations that are, in other strains, associated with increased transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies. However, they occur in a different mix and scientists have not been able to determine how that affects the behaviour of the virus.

Laboratory tests are currently underway to establish how well the variant is neutralised by antibodies.

Richard Lessells, an infectious disease expert and one of the authors of the research on C.1.2, said its emergence suggested “this pandemic is far from over and that this virus is still exploring ways to potentially get better at infecting us”.

Still, Delta remains the most transmissible variant the world has encountered, and has been upending assumptions about COVID-19 in recent months, even as countries relax restrictions and reopen their economies.

Dr Lessells added that C.1.2 might have more immune evasion properties than Delta, based on its pattern of mutations, and that the findings had been sent to the World Health Organisation.

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