COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2): New virus variants

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2): New virus variants

Studies show that all viruses mutate over time and new variants emerge regularly; some disappear whilst others persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented globally since the onset of the pandemic. Experts’ concerns focus on four variants three of which have been found in the UK.

The 4 variants currently include:

  • Variant 20I/501Y.V1, VOC 202012/01, or B.1.1.7 – first detected in September 2020 and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England. This variant has an unusually large number of mutations and has been detected in several countries around the world.
  • Variant 20H/501Y.V2 or B.1.351 – first emerged in early October in South Africa. This variant shares some mutations with the UK variant and cases have been reported outside of South Africa.
  • Variant P.1 – first identified in four travellers from Brazil during routine screening at Haneda airport outside Tokyo. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.
  • Variant VOC 202102/02 – first identified in Bristol, this variant is a mutation of the VOC-202012/01, or B1.1.7 and has been labelled a ‘variant of concern’. This new variant contains the E484K spike protein mutation, that some experts believe could help the virus slip past the body’s immune defences, and might reduce vaccine efficacy.

The 4 variants appear to spread more easily and faster than other variants; and the increase in the number of cases has put considerable strain on health care resources worldwide. Two other variants are currently under investigation, the Liverpool mutation and a further one from Brazil.

New information about the virologic, epidemiologic, and clinical characteristics of these variants continues to emerge. Scientists are working to learn more about these variants to better understand how easily they might be transmitted and the effectiveness of currently authorized vaccines against them. The CDC, in collaboration with other public health agencies, is monitoring the situation closely and information will be communicated as it becomes available.

Rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies is crucial to limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and protecting public health. These include:

  • Vaccination
  • Physical distancing
  • Use of masks as advised
  • Hand hygiene
  • Adhering to stipulated isolation and quarantine guidance