What makes the South African coronavirus variant different to others?

The identification of the South African variant or coronavirus in the UK has concerned scientists. Credit: PA
  • Why is the South African variant so concerning?

All viruses are constantly mutating so that they can survive and spread, Covid-19 is no exception.

Most mutations cause few changes and it's believed there are now thousands of variants of this coronavirus circulating which aren't causing alarm.

However, experts are worried about the South African variant in the UK and here's why.

Characteristics of the South African variant have been identified in the UK, and in Walsall, that can not be linked to international travel.

This means that the virus in the UK is naturally mutating to resemble the strain in South Africa, which appears to be spreading more quickly.

Scientists believe elements of this new strain make it more infectious, more resistant to vaccines and more likely to have the ability to reinfect people who've already had the disease.

What is more troubling is an increase in immunity in the community means this strain of the virus now has optimum conditions to continue to mutate and spread.

  • Does the SA variant spread more easily?

As the South African variant of coronavirus shares some similarities to the mutation that occurred in the South East of England before Christmas, it's not surprising that it shares some of the same traits.

It's thought that both mutations are around 70% more transmissible than the original strain - and scientist are warning that asymptomatic spread is even more of an issue.

Identifying one case of the South African variant means it's probably already likely that there are other cases in the community.

Lawrence Young from the University of Warwick Medical School says if one case is detected in the community, it's already very likely that there are others.

  • Is it more deadly? Are the symptoms different?

There's no evidence yet to confirm that the South African variant of coronavirus is more severe or induces different symptoms to the original strain of the virus.

However there are reports that people with the mutated strains of Covid-19 are less likely to lose their taste and smell.

  • Will the vaccine work against this variant?

The discovery of the SA mutation in the UK has spurred the government to work with vaccine firms to assess the effectiveness of vaccines on new strains of the virus.

Scientists think there will still be some effectiveness from the approved vaccines, based on studies on vaccination in the South African population.

However, experts say the vaccine doesn't tackle the South African variant of the virus as well as it could, with a reduction of around 30%.

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