C.1.2 Covid-19 variant: Centre says no cases in India so far, but how deadly is it?
The central government said on Wednesday, September 1, that no cases of the new C.1.2 coronavirus disease (Covid-19) variant have been detected in India so far, according to the ANI news agency, citing officials familiar with the matter. This strain of the coronavirus, first reported from South Africa, has now spread to at least six countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The public health body of the United Nations (UN) said this week that it was monitoring the new C.1.2 virus strain, which could possibly be more transmissible and evade protection provided by vaccines, according to a study.
C.1.2 Covid-19 variant was first detected in South Africa in May, but an alert about the "C.1.2 lineage" was issued by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in the country on Monday. It said, however, that the Delta variant is still the most dominant strain of the coronavirus in South Africa.
On medRxiv, a preprint server for health sciences, a paper that is yet to be peer-reviewed pointed out that the C.1.2 Covid-19 variant has been detected across the "majority" of provinces in South Africa and "seven other countries spanning Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania”; however, the exact extent of the variant's spread has not yet been confirmed by health authorities.
WHO has a system of classifying coronavirus variants based on their transmissibility, virulence, or efficacy in the face of social measures. While 'variants of concern', such as the Delta variant, show an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (for example, increased hospitalisations or deaths), the 'variants of interest' usually show community transmission in multiple clusters, but are not necessarily more virulent or transmissible.
However, what's important to note here is that the World Health Organisation is yet to classify the reported C.1.2 coronavirus variant as either a 'variant of interest' or a 'variant of concern'.
An alert was still issued by the South African institute since the C.1.2 variant is reported to contain a few "key mutations" which could trigger it to become variants of interest or 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," The Guardian quoted Dr Megan Steain, a virologist and lecturer in immunology and infectious diseases in Sydney, as saying. "These mutations may affect things like whether it evades the immune response, or transmits faster."
According to the study cited earlier, the C.1.2 lineage has a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year, which is about twice as fast as the current global mutation rate of the other variants. "It could be more transmissible and has the potential to spread fast," said Upasana Ray, a virologist from Kolkata's CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology. "Since there are so many mutations in the spike protein, it could result in immune escape and thus a challenge for the vaccination drive worldwide if allowed to spread."
So far, researchers say that the mutations N440K and Y449H, associated with immune escape from certain antibodies, have also been found in C.1.2 sequences. Based on these findings, an educated guess says that it is similar to what was previously seen in variants like Beta and Delta. Therefore, there could be a chance that the serum would not neutralise as well as it would against an ancestral strain, but a lot of these projections are still speculative, researchers said, adding that more experiences are needed to properly judge the efficacy of current Covid-19 vaccines against the new strain.