Real name: B.1.1.7
When was it discovered? The variant was first found in the South East of England and can be traced back to September 2020.
What mutations does it have? It has 23 mutations, some of which change the shape of the spike protein on its outside. The main mutation is known as N501Y. This appears to make it better able to stick to the cells inside the body and makes it more likely to cause infection and faster to spread.
Why is it causing worry? UK studies have shown it is between 50 and 70 per cent more infectious than the regular strain, which has made it harder to control. Preliminary studies also show it is about 30 per cent more deadly than previous versions.
How many people have caught it in the UK? It is the dominant strain in Britain and accounts for the majority of new cases.
Real name: P.1
When was it discovered? In Tokyo, Japan, in four travellers arriving from Manaus, Brazil, on January 2.
What mutations does it have? P.1 has 17 mutations, three of which are particularly concerning to scientists.
Like the Kent variant, it also has the N501Y mutation which suggests it’s more infectious and possibly more lethal.
It also has a spike alteration named E484K, which scientists believe may be associated with an ability to evade parts of the immune system called antibodies.
Researchers suspect this is the case because strains with this mutation have been shown to reinfect people who caught and beat older versions of Covid.
Another key mutation in the variant, named K417T, has the potential to ‘possibly escape some antibodies’, according to British experts.
This mutation is less well-studied and the ramifications of this are still being researched.
Why is it causing worry? There have been a number of proven cases of people catching this variant after beating older versions of the virus. It strongly suggests the variant can evade natural immunity and possibly even vaccines.
How many people have caught it in the UK? It’s not. Public health officials and scientists randomly sample around 1 in 10 coronavirus cases in the UK and they have not yet reported any cases of the variant, but this doesn’t rule it out completely.
South African variant
Real name: B.1.351
When was it discovered? Nelson Mandela Bay, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, in mid-December.
What mutations does it have? The South African variant carries 21 mutations, including E484K and N501Y.
Why is it causing worry? Those two mutations suggest it is more infectious than the older version of Covid and raise the possibility of antibody resistance. However, Sir Patrick Vallance has said there is no reason the South African or Brazilian strains would become dominant in the UK, because they don’t have any evolutionary edge over the Kent strain currently plaguing the country, which is just as transmissible.
How many people have caught it in the UK? At least 77 Brits have been infected with this variant, though the number is likely to be far higher because PHE is only testing random positive samples.