New COVID variants appear in Germany, California

Little is known about the variants as of yet, including whether or not they're more infectious or deadly.

3D scan of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles created by design lab Nanographics (photo credit: NANOGRAPHICS.AT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
3D scan of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles created by design lab Nanographics
As concerns grow over the spread of the British, South African, and Brazilian variants of the novel coronavirus, scientists announced that two more new variants have been discovered in Germany and California in recent weeks.
Some 35 patients at a hospital in southern Germany were found to be carrying a new variant of the virus on Monday, according to Deutsche Welle (DW).
Little is known about the variant as of yet, including whether or not it's more infectious or deadly. It is different from the UK and South African variants, according to Clemens Stockklausner, deputy medical director at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen clinic. Samples of the variant have been sent to Berlin's Charite Hospital for further examination.
"We have to wait for the complete sequencing. We cannot say at all at the moment whether this (mutation) has any clinical relevance," said Stockklausner, according to DW.
In California, a new variant, belonging to a lineage known as CAL.20C, was discovered during attempts to locate the UK variant in the state, according to The New York Times. The variant seems to have appeared in July but laid low until November, when it began to spread quickly.
In virus genome samples collected in Los Angeles laboratories on January 13, more than half of the samples were CAL.20C, according to a study that has not been published yet.
There is no evidence that the California variant is more lethal, and it is still unclear whether it is more infectious. Eric Vail, the director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told the Times that he believes that the variant is possibly behind a recent surge in cases in Southern California, saying, "I’m decently confident that this is a more infectious strain of the virus.”
The variant has been found in about 20%-30% of the samples sequenced across California, Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times.
Cases of the variant have also been found in Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Washington, DC.
The new variants join four other variants reported recently around the world, including the UK variant (B.1.1.7), the South African variant (501.V2), and two variants from Brazil (P.1 and P.2).
While the details of the Brazilian variants are still largely unclear, the UK and South African variants have caused international concern, as the UK variant seems to be more infectious than other strains and the South African variant has been shown to evade the antibodies that attack it in treatments using blood plasma from previously recovered patients and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of vaccines.
The P.1 variant does carry the same mutation that makes the UK variant easier to transmit, as well as two additional mutations that have been identified in laboratory tests as "potentially escaping antibodies," according to Time magazine.
In Israel, the UK variant has complicated efforts to control infection rates and outbreaks.
"We're seeing very significant and rapid infections and it's really a race between this and the vaccine," Public Health Services head Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis told KAN Reshet Bet radio on Tuesday, adding that they could see clearly that the variant was spreading more quickly than the original version.
Alroy-Preis presented a couple of cases that showed that the British variant is more infectious, including one person who returned from the UK who infected 20-30 people, creating a rapid chain of infections that resulted in more than 700 confirmed infections.
In discussions in the Health Ministry on Tuesday, Coronavirus Commissioner Nachman Ash said that it is still unclear if the vaccine is effective against the new variants of the coronavirus, according to Army Radio. The Health Ministry is considering requiring even vaccinated people to be tested before entering the country and may change the current plan to exempt vaccinated people from quarantine, as the effect of mutations on the vaccines is still unclear.
On Tuesday, Pfizer announced that their vaccine against the coronavirus is likely to protect against the UK variant, according to further lab tests. The study is not yet peer-reviewed.
Reuters contributed to this report.