NEW Covid variants are emerging that are more infectious than the original strain that started the pandemic a year ago.
Experts say it's not unexpected as viruses mutate constantly in attempt to thrive and survive.
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But some can make it more transmissible or threatening, which is what happened at the end of last year when Covid cases suddenly began to soar.
The Government has introduced "surge testing" in areas where mutant strains have been detected in a race to stop variants spreading.
While scientists are urgently studying the new mutations to determine whether they are more contagious or have a higher death rate.
They are also desperately trying to understand whether they are resistant to vaccines and, ultimately, if they need to be tweaked.
So far, evidence suggests that the current vaccines offer protection against Covid variants and Britain is continuing to bolster its jab roll out.
But what are the new variants and which ones are scientists most worried about?
The original strain
Covid-19, or 2019-nCoV as it was initially named, first emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
The virus itself is called SARS-CoV-2 by scientists as it is a sister to severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus, or SARS.
After the first few cases in China, it quickly spread around the globe before the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Following a worrying spike in Covid cases in the UK towards the end of last year, scientists began sequencing the virus.
They discovered it was a novel variant and traced it back to first emerging in Kent, south east England, in late September.
Now more commonly known as the UK variant, you might also hear it referred to as the B.1.1.7 variant or VUI 202012/01, which stands for the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020.
Scientists quickly found it to spread more easily and faster than other variants, forcing the Prime Minister to put the country into national lockdown on January 5.
Last month, experts said it could be associated with an increased risk of death, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding.
People suffering with the Kent mutation are more likely to get a cough, sore throat, tiredness and muscle pain, according to experts.
The Office for National Statistics found the largest change in symptoms between the original virus and the UK variant is people are much less likely to report high temperatures.
The study found no real difference in reports of shortness of breath or headaches from patients with either the novel strain or the mutation.
South Africa strain
In South Africa, another variant called B.1.351 emerged independently of B.1.1.7, although it does share some mutations.
It has been found to spreads about 60-70 per cent faster than the original strain.
This is because it has a mutation, known as E484K, which can bind to human cells quickly and infect them more easily.
Experts fear that this mutation of the spike protein may also be resistant to the current vaccines.
It is not yet known if the South African strain has any different symptoms than the three standards ones highlighted by health officials.
Originally detected in early October 2020, it was first announced by the South African government on December 18.
In the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed the new and “highly concerning” strain had entered Britain during a press briefing on December 23.
In order to contain the strain all flights from South Africa were stopped and anyone who had visited South Africa in the past two weeks, or been in contact with someone who has, had to quarantine immediately.
Until this week, all cases detected in the UK so far were believed to be linked to foreign travel.
On February 1, health officials said 11 cases had been detected where people had not travelled, suggesting they had picked it up here.
The Government has now introduced "surge testing" with sites popping up across eight postcode areas in order to curb the spread.
There are two new Covid strains to emerge from Brazil – one experts are more worried about than the other.
The first, a variant called P.1, emerged in early January after being detected in travellers during routine screening at an airport in Japan.
Experts say that it is a descendant of lineage B.1.1.28 and contains a unique constellation of lineage defining mutations including E484K.
It also contains the N501Y mutation, which is a feature of the UK strain and has been linked to increased infectivity and virulence in studies.
Meanwhile, the E484K mutation is thought to be associated with evading neutralising antibodies produced by the body against the virus.
This variant isn't believed to have been detected in the UK.
The second variant is a different descendant of the same lineage – B.1.1.28, but doesn’t contain a constellation of mutations.
It does differ from its ancestral lineage in that it carries the mutation E484K.
P.2 has been reported to be spreading in the state of Rio de Janeiro and is associated with two independent reinfection cases in Brazil.
It does not contain the other important mutations carried by lineage P.1.
The COG-UK confirmed that lineage P.2 has recently been detected in the UK in a handful of cases.
It's not yet known whether symptoms of the Brazil variants are any different to the key signs listed by health officials.
Health experts revealed on Tuesday that the UK strain has acquired a mutation similar to the South African variant.
Public Health England detected 11 cases in Bristol where the Kent variant has mutated to “escape” immune response.
Gene sequencing has shown that the E484K mutation has occurred spontaneously, according to PHE.
Until this point the mutation had only been associated with the South African and Brazil variants.
Experts say the “worrying development” means vaccination and natural immunity will prove less effective against these infections if they are allowed to spread.
Lab studies have shown that the E484K mutation means antibodies are less able to bind to a part of the virus known as the spike protein, in order to stop it from unlocking human cells to gain entry.
Doorstep testing will now get underway in Bristol where the cases were first identified.
Another separate mutation of the original Covid variant appears to have emerged in the North East of England.
A cluster of 32 cases in Liverpool have been detected with the E484K mutation.
However it relates to the original strain of coronavirus that has been around since the start of the pandemic, and not the Kent variant.
Regional PHE officials said the mutation detected in Liverpool was part of cases among staff at Liverpool Women's Hospital last month.
A cluster of an initial five cases was detected on January 10 among some staff who had attended an event outside the hospital, believed to be a funeral.
Extra surging testing will be carried out in the area to stop it spreading, offiical said.
It's unclear whether symptoms of this mutation differ and people are advised to continue following the Government's stay at home advice.
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