New South African variant could enter Sri Lanka

  • Health Min. urges adherence to health guidelines
  • Mutation 1.7 times faster than current global variant mutation rate: Int’l expert

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

The Ministry of Health said that there is a possibility of any variant of the Covid-19 virus, including the new C.1.2 Covid-19 variant of South African origin, which has also been identified in several other countries, entering Sri Lanka.

When questioned at a media briefing in Colombo yesterday (1) as to whether there is a risk of said variant entering the country, Deputy Director of Public Health Services (DDGPHS) and Disaster Preparedness and Response Division Head Dr. Hemantha Herath replied in the affirmative.

“Of course. I know that the variant which was previously discovered in South Africa did not enter Sri Lanka, but no variant can be stopped from entering the country because the variants of this virus are not shown separately,” he said.

He also urged the public to follow proper health guidelines such as wearing face masks properly, maintaining the one-metre distance, and washing hands in order to prevent the spread of any Covid-19 variant.

“People can be protected from any variants if the prescribed health guidelines are followed, as no variants have been found that can transcend the following of proper health guidelines,” he said.

According to Royal Free Hospital, UK consultant in clinical immunology and allergy and University College London Prof. Suranjith Seneviratne, the strain was first detected in three provinces of South Africa in May 2021, after which it has been found in China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, England, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.

When contacted by The Morning, he said that said variant has more changes than other known variants of concern (VOC) or variants of interest (VOI) that have been identified so far. Over half of the C.1.2 variant sequences have 14 mutations, whilst additional changes have also been observed in some of the sequences, he added.

Adding that about 52% of the mutations in the spike region of the C.1.2 variant have been previously seen in other VOC and VOI, Prof. Seneviratne said the C.1.2 variant is mutating at a rate of 41.8 mutations per year, which is around 1.7 times faster than the current global mutation rate for other variants. According to him, the researchers have found evidence to suggest that the C.1.2 variant is still mutating and evolving as it continues to infect more people worldwide.

Speaking further, he said the observed mutations in this variant, together with changes in other parts of the virus, may help the virus evade antibodies produced post-infection with the other Covid-19 variants and even vaccine-induced immunity.

“Currently, it is too early to predict what may happen with this viral variant on a global scale. It may expand rapidly and overtake the other variants or remain at low levels. Studies are ongoing to assess how prior Covid-19 or Covid-19 vaccine immunity is able to handle this variant. The more a virus spreads, the higher the chance for new clinically relevant variants to arise. Vaccinating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, therefore, is an important target for reducing the risk of new variants arising,” he stressed.