PREPRINT: The continuous evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa: a new lineage with rapid accumulation of mutations of concern and global detection

SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest have been associated with increased transmissibility, neutralization resistance and disease severity. Ongoing SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance world-wide has improved our ability to rapidly identify such variants. Here we report the identification of a potential variant of interest assigned to the PANGO lineage C.1.2. This lineage was first identified in May 2021 and evolved from C.1, one of the lineages that dominated the first wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections in South Africa and was last detected in January 2021. C.1.2 has since been detected across the majority of the provinces in South Africa and in seven other countries spanning Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania. The emergence of C.1.2 was associated with an increased substitution rate, as was previously observed with the emergence of the Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants of concern (VOCs). C.1.2 contains multiple substitutions (R190S, D215G, E484K, N501Y, H655Y and T859N) and deletions (Y144del, L242-A243del) within the spike protein, which have been observed in other VOCs and are associated with increased transmissibility and reduced neutralization sensitivity. Of greater concern is the accumulation of additional mutations (C136F, Y449H and N679K) which are also likely to impact neutralization sensitivity or furin cleavage and therefore replicative fitness. While the phenotypic characteristics and epidemiology of C.1.2 are being defined, it is important to highlight this lineage given its concerning constellations of mutations.

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