Why are there Covid variants and which of them are in the UK?

New Covid-19 variants arise when the genetic makeup of the virus mutates naturally over time.

This is not a new or unexpected phenomenon with RNA viruses – and is the reason why, for example, fresh flu vaccines are needed every year.

Scientists are watching these mutations because they could make the coronavirus more transmissible or, in the worst case, more deadly or resistant to vaccines, like the Delta variant.

The strains in the UK with the most potentially worrying changes are known as “Variants of concern” (VOCs) and include:

WHO name Scientific name Location identified first Number of new cases in the UK June 2-8

alpha

B.1.1.7

Kent, UK

4,089

beta

B.1.351

South Africa

24

gamma

P.1

Brazil

19th

delta

B.1.617.2

India

33,630

Data Source: UK Government website

As the table above shows, the Delta variant is currently the dominant variety in the UK.

Nine other variants are currently on the government watchlist, but they are all being “investigated”.

The new Covid-19 mutation related to Delta, which was declared a VOC by the authorities in India today, was also detected in the UK.

Scientists warn, however, that there is not enough data on the variant known as “Delta plus” or AY.1 to say whether it poses a significant threat.

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