What Are The Covid Variants In The UK? Here’s How They’re Spreading

With another new variant identified, there are now nine on the UK's watchlist. Here's where things stand.

With another new Covid variant identified, there are now nine on the UK’s watchlist.

Public Health England said on Thursday that two people in the south-east of England had tested positive for a new strain after recently travelling to Antigua. It has been designated a “variant under investigation”.

Here’s where things stand with all of the variants.

Kent variant

The number of confirmed and probable cases for the Kent variant stands at 119,783. This strain was first detected in September and its spread led to the cancellation of a planned relaxation of measures at Christmas and the second national lockdown.

It is now thought to be the dominant variant in the UK.

Analysis of the variant suggests it is up to 70% more transmissible than the previous strain that was dominant in the UK.

South Africa variant

There were, as of March 10, 318 confirmed and probable cases of the South Africa variant in the UK. That’s the strain that sparked “surge testing” at the beginning of February when 11 cases were recorded in people who hadn’t travelled to the country.

At that time there was a total of 105 cases of the highly-transmissible variant, which was first identified in the UK in December. Some 80,000 people were targeted with the door-to-door and mobile testing initially, with more areas added when cases were identified.

As well as helping slow the transmission of the variant, the surge testing helps experts learn more about the variant by sequencing genomic data.

That the number of cases remains at a relatively modest 318 suggests the surge testing policy is managing to contain the spread of the virus.

Bristol variant

Another variant of concern is a mutation of the Kent strain first found in Bristol in February. It carries the E484K mutation, which experts suggest may be better at evading the human immune response, but since the first 11 cases were announced on February 2 and surge testing was rolled out, only 24 more have been recorded and the total stands at 35.

Brazil variant

The government announced on February 28 that a variant first seen in Manaus, Brazil, had been identified in the UK. Public Health England (PHE) confirmed six cases – three in England and three in Scotland.

Two cases were confirmed in South Gloucestershire, and after a five-day hunt a third English case was tracked down in Croydon, south London. The nationwide search was sparked because the person did not complete their test registration card fully and their contact details were therefore not known.

The three Scottish residents tested positive after flying into Aberdeen from Brazil, via Paris and London.

As of March 10 there were seven confirmed cases and a further three probably cases.

Though low in numbers, there is concern about the Brazil variant, with research from Manaus suggesting between 25% and 61% of people who have previously had Covid are susceptible to reinfection from the strain, which is also up to twice as transmissible as earlier strains.

However, British scientists have cautioned that the study cannot be used to predict what might happen in the UK and say it does not suggest that vaccines will not work against it.

Experts do not so far believe that the Manaus variant is more transmissible than the Kent variant, which in itself is more transmissible than the original pandemic strain.

Variants under investigation

None of the remaining strains, classed as “variants under investigation”, have registered over 100 cases.

There are 51 cases of another Brazil variant, first identified in the UK in November.

And a variant understood to have originated in the UK, known as VUI-202102/04 (lineage B.1.1.318) is also under investigation with 20 cases confirmed as of Thursday.

A strain with similar mutations to the Bristol variant and which was seen in areas around Liverpool last month has 59 confirmed cases.

And in February scientists identified another new variant of coronavirus known as B.1.525, which appears similar to the South Africa variant.

Public Health England (PHE) has said there is no evidence it is more transmissible or causes severe disease. As of February 16, 38 cases had been identified in the UK. There are now 82 confirmed cases.

The latest variant under investigation, as of March 10, was identified in two people in south-east England who had recently travelled to Antigua.


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