All viruses, including coronaviruses, can change over time. That can lead to different strains of the virus with many characteristics. There are three main strains (also called variants) that are currently circulating more quickly. The Uk (Kent) strain, the South African Strain are all identified through a specific combination of mutations. Even though these variants arose in different places, they share some of the same Mutations.

The symptoms of the new Covid variants

How do they differ from the older coronavirus?

There are 23 changes to the genetic code. The Mutations of most concern are in the spike protein that decorates the surface of the virus. This helps the virus invade cells and is the target for most vaccines.

Uk government scientific advisers say the COVID-19 variant now predominant in the country may be up to 70% more deadly than previous variants, underscoring concerns about how mutations may change the disease characteristics. 

About the South Africa variant

South Africa named the variant 501Y.V2 because of the N501Y mutation they found in the spike protein that the virus uses to gain entry into cells within the body. A new SARS-CoV-2 variant (501Y. V2) that was the first discovered in South Africa has raised concern over new infections. In November 2020, clinicians alerted South African scientists about a rapid increase in the number of people with COVID-19 in the Nelson Mandela Bay region in the Eastern Cape province, leading to identifying a new variant of the virus in South Africa. Since Jan 1, the country has recorded nearly 190 000 new SARS-CoV-2 infections and more than 4600 COVID-19 deaths this year.

About the UK(Kent) variant

The so-called ‘Kent variant’ is a new strain of coronavirus that scientists believe could be twice as deadly. The Kent variant has already been detected in more than 50 countries.

It was first detected in September 2020 in southeast England, and its rapid spread over the following months was cited as the reason for the introduction of new lockdown rules in the UK in January.