What we know about the new C.1.2 coronavirus variant

alopah Date:2021-09-08 14:08:05 From:aljazeera
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While much of the world’s focus has been on the Delta variant of coronavirus, a new variant has been identified in South Africa.


Currently referred to as the C.1.2 variant, it is yet to be called a variant of interest or concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), but is drawing the attention of scientists due to the number and types of mutations it contains and the speed at which the mutations have occurred.


C.1.2 is reported to be the variant carrying the most mutations since the original “wild” variant emerged in China.


A pre-print study put out by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the C.1.2 variant was first identified in the Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces in May 2021; it has since been found in other South African provinces as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland.


According to the preprint, there are several mutations carried on the C.1.2 variant – and some of these may make it more transmissible and even evade vaccine protection, though this is yet to be formally concluded.


For a variant to be declared a “variant of concern” by the WHO it must be proven to show “increased transmissibility, virulence or change in clinical disease, and a decreased effectiveness of public health and social measures”; it is too early to say if this is true of C1.2. WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a United Nations briefing that they were monitoring the variant but it does not appear to be spreading.


Mutations are part of the course of many viral diseases that spread as quickly as the coronavirus. The more people the virus infects the more likely it is to mutate. When the coronavirus enters a human cell its main job is to instruct the cell to make more copies of the virus; these then leave the cell and infect other cells in their human host. The process of viral replication is relatively fast and errors can be made in the copying of viral DNA – these are known as mutations.


Most mutations are either harmful to the virus, and that particular virus dies out quickly, or confer no benefit at all. But every now and again a mutation that is advantageous to the virus will randomly occur – be it making it more transmissible or even making it partially resistant to vaccines.


A major concern with the C.1.2 variant is the speed at which it has mutated and the number of mutations it contains. Another reason scientists want to monitor C.1.2 closely is that some of these mutations look similar to those that have helped the Delta variant become the dominant strain across the world, while others align with what we have seen previously with the Beta variant. Any time these mutations are seen in a new variant it is important to keep an eye on how it spreads and what it does.


Although levels of the C.1.2 variant are still low among the South African population, it remains a concern to local public health experts and scientists across the world. The variant has emerged from the C.1 lineage which was one of the coronavirus lineages that dominated during the first wave of infections in South Africa in mid-May 2020.


Currently, Delta remains the dominant variant in South Africa and much of the world. For the C.1.2 variant to become dominant it will have to outcompete with Delta. That will mean increased transmissibility, being able to bind to human host cells and infect people quicker than Delta currently does. Scientists refer to this as a virus’s “affinity” – how well it can grab onto and enter human cells; C.1.2 will have to have a better level of affinity than Delta to become dominant.


 C.1.2 variant


The bottom line is that it remains to be seen whether C.1.2 is indeed more transmissible than Delta or if it can partially evade the immune response triggered by the vaccine or previous infection. It will take time and detailed laboratory studies to confirm the types of mutations C.1.2 harbours and any advantages they may confer. What remains important and certain is that vaccinations are still the best way to protect against serious symptoms of COVID-19 and reduce the number of deaths that are still occurring worldwide from this disease.


Progress report: How to make schools safe this autumn

For children and parents in many countries, September heralds the start of a new academic year. It is a time of excitement, filled with shopping trips for new school uniforms and stationery, that marks the end of the summer holidays. Many of us remember the feeling well and do our best for our children in order to make the transition into the next school year as enjoyable as possible. But this year is different, there is the looming worry of COVID and other respiratory diseases that are expected to spread as children mingle with each other in indoor spaces.


Many countries have pressed on with vaccinating 12-15-year-olds against COVID to help mitigate the burden of disease in this population, but there are still countries that are yet to decide on whether vaccinating younger groups is in their best interests. Whatever decision the overriding health authority has made for your country, there is still likely to be a significant number of 12-15-year-olds who are not vaccinated and, of course, anyone below the age of 12 will not have been vaccinated at all. This means we must rely on other measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other respiratory viruses among children while at school.


While hand hygiene, mask-wearing, social distancing and regular testing remain important tools in reducing the spread of COVID, the rules around them will vary from country to country and even schools within the same country. What is becoming glaringly obvious is how important good ventilation is in reducing the spread of the virus.


It is now widely agreed by scientists worldwide that the coronavirus mainly spreads through aerosol particles, that is, it is airborne. The WHO updated its website to include the airborne route as a mode of transmission for the virus. This means that people carrying COVID can breathe, cough or sneeze it out in tiny particles that float and linger in the air; these particles get breathed in by other people who then become infected. Aerosol particles containing the virus can remain suspended in the air and linger for hours if there are no good ventilation or air filtration systems that move the particles out of that enclosed space.


Airborne transmission is different from the much talked about “droplet spread” mechanism (that drove the idea of social distancing) that refers to much larger droplets coughed, sneezed or even talked out by an infected person who contains the virus. These droplets are too big and heavy to become airborne and are usually pulled down out of the air by gravity after travelling 1-2 metres.


Fomite spread refers to the spread of the virus through contaminated surfaces, something that is unlikely to have been a big driver of COVID infections in the real world. It is now widely accepted that droplet and fomite spread alone cannot account for the numerous super-spreading events and differences in transmission between indoor and outdoor environments observed during the pandemic, that airborne spread will have played a crucial part in. Other airborne viruses include the ones responsible for the common cold – also known as rhinoviruses – flu viruses, as well as chickenpox and measles.


It is important to remember that many young people exhibit mild or no symptoms of COVID and may attend classes without knowing they are harbouring the virus. At the same time, there are clinically extremely vulnerable children in schools and colleges that are at increased risk of getting seriously sick with COVID and they deserve to be protected. Additionally, even healthy young people and children can get sick with the virus, and some can go on to develop long COVID.


After a year of seeing intermittent school closures due to COVID outbreaks, it is vital that schools and education facilities be kept as COVID-safe as possible to ensure no further disruption to our children’s education – this means accepting the cost of reducing airborne transmission in our classrooms and acknowledging that if this is not done, the longer-term price we will pay for our children’s health and education will be much higher.


It is vital that governments look into ventilation systems in schools as well as invest in appropriate air filtration systems. Studies looking at other airborne viruses show that a low ventilation rate increases the risk of exposure to virus-laden aerosols indoors. Airflow strongly influences the transport of aerosol particles; greater airflow outdoors leads to better dispersion of these particles and less risk of virus transmission.


Carbon dioxide sensors can be used to monitor levels of exhaled air and whether ventilation is adequate – the higher the level of CO2 in a room the more likely the air is to contain exhaled aerosols that hold viruses, including that which causes COVID. Opening windows and doors are ways to improve ventilation and airflow, but this is not always practical. Some classrooms may not have outside-facing windows, and for other children, opening a window in autumn may make the classroom too cold an environment in which to learn effectively.


High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter systems are ones made up of extremely fine fibres arranged in a way that removes 99.97 percent of particles from the air down to at least 0.3 microns in size, including those containing viruses. HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) filter systems also keep air moving and can remove viral-containing aerosols.


By combining all of these things – good ventilation, monitoring carbon dioxide levels and investing in air filtration systems – alongside social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing (where appropriate), schools can ensure they are doing all they can to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other airborne viruses in their classrooms.


All of this requires investment and money – and in a year where many countries have suffered economic hardships as a result of the pandemic, this may be a bitter pill for some governments to swallow. But they must then ask themselves what the alternative is likely to be. This generation of children has suffered enough because of the pandemic; we must act now to make schools fun, exciting and safe places to be again.

TAG: Delta variant

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