The head of UK's genetic surveillance programme on Thursday said the coronavirus variant first found in the British region of Kent is a concern because it could undermine the protection given by vaccines against developing COVID-19. She also said the variant was likely "to sweep the world, in all probability".
Here is a rundown on the new strain:
What is the Kent Covid variant and what are its symptoms?
The variant has swiftly become the most dominant in parts of the UK, having emerged only a few months ago. The more contagious and potentially more deadly strain has different symptoms to look out for, early data suggests.
Generally, the signs of Covid remain the same. However, data shows the most common symptoms of the Kent strain differ from other variants prominent in the UK.
The most common symptom of the Kent variant, reported by 35 per cent of people who tested positive, was a cough. Close behind was fatigue and muscle weakness, affecting 32 per cent of cases, and headache with 31 per cent.
Muscle aches were reported by a quarter of those testing positive for the Kent strain. A loss of taste or a loss of smell was reported by only 15 per cent of cases each.
Scientists have called for the official list of coronavirus symptoms to be altered to include signs such as headache and fatigue.
Is this variant more contagious?
According to report by The Telegraph, 53 per cent of people in England who tested positive with the Kent variant said they had Covid-19 symptoms compared to 48 per cent of people with other variants.
Scientists said this could explain why it is more easily spread, as infected people are coughing more. If the Kent strain causes people to cough more, this could explain why it spreads more easily.
This virus has 23 changes compared to the original Wuhan virus, some of which could affect the body’s immune response and also influence the range of symptoms associated with infection.
Will vaccines need to be reconfigured?
A recent study also revealed that the Kent strain has acquired a mutation similar to the South African variant - making it more likely to resist vaccines.
The mutation, known as E484K, is already present in both South African and Brazilian coronavirus variants. This means the antibodies produced by the immune system to fight the older version of the coronavirus may fail to recognise it in its new mutated form.
How difficult is tweaking vaccines?
While theoretically it seems an easy task to change chemical composition of vaccines to suit needs, more than 4-5 changes in the original atomic structure may take months.
Will borders need to be closed again?
Closing borders way delay the spread or completely block it but comes with a huge economical cost. UK is implementing an Australia and New Zealand-style hotel quarantine for travellers arriving from selected countries in order to prevent new variants being imported.
How far has the variant already spread?
The UK variant have spread rapidly. It is in more than 50 countries.