Misleading online speculation has dogged a new SARS-CoV-2 variant that emerged in South Africa in early 2021, with claims circulating that it is more contagious and even vaccine resistant.
In May this year scientists in South Africa first identified the C.1.2 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease, in test samples collected in the country’s Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces.
Since then the C.1.2 variant has been the subject of much speculation online and internationally.
At the end of August into early September 2021, an article by South Africa-based Afrikaans language current affairs website Maroela Media was circulating in Namibian WhatsApp groups.
The Maroela Media article was headlined ‘A new virus variant may be more contagious, vaccine resistant’.
Since the variant has appeared it has been prominently discussed in online spaces, and especially in social media spaces, with much of the speculation being misinformed and pushing the claims that the variant was more contagious than the Delta variant and that it was vaccine resistant.
Is C.1.2 more contagious and vaccine resistant?
These claims are not supported by evidence.
In July, the South African National Department of Health alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the circulation of the C.1.2 variant.
Although the variant has been circulating at a relatively low frequency it has been detected in all provinces of South Africa. The variant was also detected in China and the UK in June, and in August it was detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.
Despite the fact that the variant picked up a lot of mutations in a short period of time, it has to date not been labelled as a variant of interest or a variant of concern.
This was because the variant represents less than 5% of new cases in South Africa and has only been found in around 100 COVID-19 cases worldwide since May.
The Conversation published a very informative article about the variant, stating:
“It’s early days, so it’s impossible to predict what will happen to C.1.2. It could expand and overtake other variants, or it could fizzle and disappear. Again, just because this virus has a bunch of mutations, it doesn’t necessarily mean the mutations will work together to out-compete other variants.”
There is as yet no evidence of significantly increased transmissibility associated with C.1.2, nor is there any evidence that the variant is vaccine resistant.
As of 29 October 2021, the Delta variant remains the dominant variant globally.
At the end of August, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases acknowledged that it was cautious about the possible implications of the variant, while more data was being gathered to better understand the variant.
The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA), simultaneously continues to monitor the frequency of cases of the variant, as well as conducting tests to assess the functional impact of the novel mutation it contains.