How many variants of Covid are there and what are they called?

3 February 2021, 17:55

Coronavirus variants: A number have developed since the original virus
Coronavirus variants: A number have developed since the original virus. Picture: Getty

By Zoe Adams

Coronavirus has mutated a number of times since the pandemic begun giving us the South Africa, UK and Brazil variant - but how many strains are there altogether?

Covid-19 variants have caused a number of issues since the coronavirus pandemic begun in 2020 with the likes of the South African and UK strain causing more hurdles for scientists, the NHS and health officials to overcome.

While it’s not unusual for a virus to mutate and cause new variants, in some cases, like we’ve seen in the UK version, it can mean the typical characteristics of a virus can change slightly, for instance, spreading faster.

Experts and scientists are conducting fast research on the new strains to understand them as fast as they can and detect any further dangers but it's understood they shouldn't impact the vaccine roll out.

What are the Covid vaccines available and how are they different?

So how many variants of Covid are there? And what are they called? Here’s the latest on the new coronavirus strains experts are looking into:

Coronavirus testing and research is taking place to understand the new variants
Coronavirus testing and research is taking place to understand the new variants. Picture: PA

What is the South African Covid variant?

The latest variant scientists are looking into in the UK is the South Africa strain.

Detected in parts of the UK where there are no travel links to the country, the government have urged residents in certain postcodes in London and Surrey, to remain home when they can and to take the at-home Covid test when offered, even if you don't have symptoms.

So far there is no evidence to suggest it’s more serious or harmful than the other variants and there are yet to be any new symptoms detected.

It’s currently the dominant virus in East and West South Africa with other cases also being discovered in Austria, Norway and Japan.

The coronavirus vaccine remains effective against the Covid virus
The coronavirus vaccine remains effective against the Covid virus. Picture: PA

What is the Brazil Covid variant?

Detected in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put in place a travel ban from those coming from Brazil and Portugal as he admitted the new strain was “of concern”.

In January, Cambridge University microbiology professor Ravi Gupta said the Brazilian variant has three key mutations that "largely mirror" some of those in the hyper-infectious South African variant "hence the concern".

"Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible," he added.

What is the UK Covid variant?

A dominant variant in the UK, the strain was confirmed to be 70% more transmissible which is likely the reason behind England’s third lockdown.

First detected in Kent September 2020, the variant has now spread to 50 other countries and was responsible for two-thirds of cases by mid-December.

Are there other coronavirus variants to worry about?

There are new variants also detected in Kenya, Denmark and Malaysia but the recorded cases have been low so far and have yet to be detected in the UK.

As it stands, there’s no evidence to suggest these new variants are more deadly.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, said: “There's no evidence at all with any of these variants that it makes the disease itself more severe.

"So the changes that we're seeing with the variants are largely around increased transmission, it makes it easier to get it from one person to another, it makes it easier therefore to catch."