Covid strains compared – which is more deadly from Brazilian to South African?

A NEW coronavirus variant has been detected in the UK for the first time.

The Brazilian variant called P.1 adds to a catalogue of concerning strains circulating in the UK, each with their own characteristics.

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A variant that originated in the UK, which goes by the nickname the "Kent variant" is dominant, causing several hundreds of thousands of cases so far.

The South African variant has been detected hundreds of times and prompted surge testing across England.

And the new Brazil variant has so far been detected six times – but not all cases have been identified by health officials, causing trouble for contact tracing.

The mutations in new coronavirus strains give them an edge over the "original" strain that popped up first in Wuhan.

They can either make them more able to spread, cause severe disease, reinfection, or weaken vaccine efficacy.

Vaccines have been hailed as the way out of the pandemic and so far in the UK over 20 million people have received their first dose.

But health officials say although the vaccines will still work to prevent severe disease, it is likely the jabs will need to be tweaked in the future to fight new coronavirus variants.

There are still a number of unanswered questions about each new variant, as scientists carry out vital research.

So what do we know so far?


The UK strain – called VUI202012/01 – first emerged in Kent in September and caused cases to surge despite the national lockdown in November.

Boris Johnson revealed the variant was up to 70 per cent more contagious than the original strain.

It was in part responsible for the third national lockdown in England after the tiers system was unable to control the spread.

The Kent strain was later found to be between 30 per cent and 70 per cent more deadly, according to the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) – a sub-group of Sage.

But there is no evidence to indicate existing treatments, such as dexamethasone, will not be effective against it.

But scientists are confident that vaccines being given in the UK will still protect against this variant, which is good news because it has become the most dominant.


The Kent strain mutated again at the start of this year to mimic the South African variant.

Cases of this variant have been detected a handful of times in Bristol, therefore it got nicknamed the "Bristol variant".

It has a mutation known as E484K, which is already present in both South African and Brazilian coronavirus variants.

Laboratory studies have shown that 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.

When the new strain first emerged experts said the symptoms were the same to variants already in circulation.

The three main symptoms to watch out for according to the NHS are a new persistent cough, a loss of taste and smell (anosmia) and a high temperature.

However it was last week revealed that people suffering with the Kent mutation are more likely to get a cough, sore throat, tiredness and muscle pain.

What variants are health officials most concerned about?

There are currently four variants labelled a “variant of concern”:

– UK/Kent variant: First detected in the UK and was first sequenced in the UK in September 2020 and called B117.

– UK/Kent variant + E484K mutation: This variant was first detected in Bristol and is the UK variant (B117) with a genetic change also found in both the South African and Brazilian variants, E484K.

– South African variant: First detected in South Africa and first sequenced in the UK in December 2020. It is called 501.V2.

– Brazilian variant: First detected in Japan in travellers from Brazil in January 2021 and has now been detected in the UK. It is called P1.

There is also a variant under investigation, a second variant from Brazil, called P2, that has been detected in a handful of cases in the UK, but is not causing scientists serious concern.


The South African variant is called 501.V2.

The Health Secretary revealed the new and “highly concerning” strain had entered Britain during a press briefing on December 23.

The strain was announced by the South African government on December 18.

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.

But it has still managed to spread in the UK, causing more than 200 cases so far.

Surge testing has been carried out in multiple locations in England – including in London, Leeds and Liverpool – over the past few weeks in order to prevent further spread.

The South African strain is thought to be more transmissible, up to 50 per cent more.

But although scientists say there is a "hint" it is more deadly from studies in South Africa, where the strain is more dominant, there has been no clear evidence of this yet.

The South African variant carries the E484K mutation which experts suggest may be better at evading the human immune response.

The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is effective against this variant, according to a study from the US.

However, a separate study suggested that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was not effective at preventing mild illness caused by the more infectious South African mutation.

But the jab will protect against deaths and severe disease amid the spread of the South African variant, according to researchers.

Moderna said lab tests of its vaccine found there was a six-fold reduction in neutralising antibodies produced against the South African variant. However, the levels remained above those that are expected to be protective.

It is not yet known if the South African strain has any different symptoms than the three standards ones highlighted by health officials.


The Brazil variant has now been detected in the UK six times – three in England, and three in Scotland.

But one case in England has not been traced back to the infected person, after being found through random genetic sequencing of test swabs.

Surge testing is now underway in South Gloucestershire, where the other two cases in England have been found. One was a traveller from Brazil, and the other a household member.

The strain, called P.1, emerged in the Brazilian city of Manaus in December.

The P.1 variant is associated with a surge of cases in Manaus late last year, which led to a severe second wave of Covid-19.

Because the city had a high level of immunity, due to its first wave of Covid, scientists were concerned because this raised the possibility it is able more easily re-infect patients due to the mutations it carries.

But it is not clear if P.1 causes more severe illness or death at this stage.

The Brazilian variant has three key mutations in the spike receptor binding domain (RBD) – a vital part of the coronavirus structure – that largely mirror some of the mutations experts are worried about in the South African variant.

Like the South African variant, the Brazilian one carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K.

Its possible that vaccines may not be as effective against it.

It is also believed that the variant is up to 50 per cent more transmissible than those already in circulation.

The Government haven't specified what the symptoms of the new strain from Brazil are.

Another Brazilian variant, called P.2, has been detected in the UK. But experts say it is not a cause for concern.

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