According to South Africa’s health minister, the C.1.2 strain is not now a threat.

South Africa’s Health Minister, Joe Phaahla, stated on Friday that scientists had advised the government that the C.1.2 coronavirus type found locally was not a threat at this time.

The C.1.2 variety was discovered in May and has already spread to all nine provinces of the country.

It contains several changes associated with enhanced transmissibility and decreased sensitivity to neutralising antibodies in other versions, prompting researchers to alert the government and the World Health Organization to its discovery (WHO).

“At this stage they (scientists) have assured us it’s not really a threat, they are just watching it,” Phaahla told a news conference, noting C.1.2 had only been detected in small numbers so far.

He added that it was almost certain that the country would face a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections around the end of the year.

The WHO this week designated the C.1.2 variant as one for further monitoring, a category that reflects that it may pose a future risk but that the evidence is currently unclear. It has not been designated as a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern,” categories considered more serious and notated by letters of the Greek alphabet.

South African researchers are currently running laboratory tests on how C.1.2 responds to antibodies generated by vaccines or prior infection, but it could be weeks before those results are out.

Genomic sequencing data from South Africa this week showed that C.1.2 accounted for 2.4% of genomes sequenced in August, versus 2.5% in July and 1.2% in June. The Delta variant accounted for roughly 95% of sequences in August.

Delta is the fastest spreading variant the world has encountered so far, and it is upending assumptions about COVID-19 even as nations loosen restrictions and reopen their economies.

South Africa was the first country to detect the Beta variant, one of only four currently labelled a variant of concern by the WHO. Beta is believed to spread more easily than the original version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and there is evidence vaccines work less well against it, leading some countries to restrict travel to and from South Africa.

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