The pandemic era the world was thrust into over two years ago is gently phasing out. COVID-19 had its chance, but we are getting over it. The mass hysteria it triggered during the lockdown era has considerably subsided because it wasn’t as serious as we thought it was, or was it?
While COVID-19 had its chance, it mutated a lot to overwhelm the human population in different geographical regions, but we have to say its best wasn’t good enough. If you like us wondering where and why COVID has been changing its colours, don’t worry; we have an explanation.
What is a COVID-19 Variant?
The COVID-19 virus is an infectious disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). The termed COVID-19 was an acronym derived from “Coronavirus disease 2019“, the year it was discovered.
Generally, viruses are constantly changing, and that can cause a new variant, or strain, of a virus to form. A variant usually doesn’t affect how the virus works but can make it act in different ways. Scientists have been tracking changes in the COVID-19 virus with a motive to determine how fast it spreads, how they might affect your health, and how effective different vaccines might be against them.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been naming the new coronavirus variants after the Greek alphabet letters, starting with the Alpha variant, which emerged in 2020.
The variants they have found so far are quite numerous, but the most common variants that are of concern are:
1. Omicron (B.1.1.529)
Omicron was identified as a “variant of concern” after it was discovered in Botswana and South Africa in late November 2021. Cases also began to surface in other countries, especially in the U.S. Based on this, countries established travel bans against African countries to stop the spread. Despite these attempts in mid-December, Omicron became the predominant strain in the U.S.
Mutations: Experts report that Omicron carries an abundance of mutations (single changes in the virus’s genetic code)— some descendent Pango lineages like BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2, and BA.3 have been identified. BA.2 is more contagious, and there’s a chance of reinfection with BA.2 following infection with BA.1.
2. Delta (B.1.617.2)
The Delta strain is the predominant version of the coronavirus first identified in India in late 2020. Delta B.1.617.2 is one of its variant strains. It has been listed as a variant of concern because evidence has shown it to be more infectious and spread more rapidly than other variants, even in vaccinated people.
Mutations: It has more than a dozen mutations. The Delta variant causes more than twice as many infections as variants before it. It is estimated to be 80 to 90% more transmissible than the Alpha variant.
Severity: This variant may cause more severe disease than other variants in unvaccinated people.
3. Delta AY.4.2
The Delta AY.4.2 sometimes is incorrectly referred to as the Delta Plus. This variant is the most prominent of many Delta offshoots and not a coronavirus variant in itself. It may be slightly more contagious than the original Delta virus itself. Great Britain has been tracking a steady rise of AY4.2 in their territory than other parts of the world.
Mutations: The AY.4.2 has two mutations to its spike protein, AY145H and A222V, that are considered vital, but they are not located in a place where they would inhibit vaccines or treatments.
Severity: So far, it does not appear to pose a greater chance of hospitalization or death.
This variant, or B.1.351, was identified in South Africa at the end of 2020 and spread to other countries. Experts had been concerned about its several mutations and its potential to evade antibodies. The focus and cases on Beta decreased as the focus around the world turned to the Delta and, later, the Omicron variant. According to the CDC, Beta is about 50% more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.
Mutations: The AY.4.2 has two mutations to its spike protein, AY145H and A222V, which are considered key. However, on infection, they are not located where they would inhibit vaccines or treatments.
Severity: There is evidence to suggest that Beta may be more likely than other variants to lead to hospitalization and death.
5. Alpha (B.1.1.7)
Alpha (B.1.1.7) was the first of the highly publicized variants. This variant first appeared in Great Britain in November 2020, and infections surged in December of that year. It became common around the world and was tagged a variant of concern. Then, Alpha faded away with the rise of the more aggressive Delta variant.
Mutations: The B.1.1.7 lineage was believed to be 30 to 50% more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.
Severity: Studies have suggested the B.1.1.7 lineage is more likely to land infected people in the hospital and is deadlier than the original virus.
Are there more variants?
There are more variants, but attention is currently focused on two: Delta and Omicron. In addition to Alpha and Beta, others include the Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Zeta, and Mu variants.
No vaccine is 100% effective because there are still infected cases in some fully vaccinated people. Also, infected vaccinated people can spread the virus to others, although it is likely that they will be infectious for a shorter time.
The Covid-19 era has not fully phased out; travel bans and restrictions exist within and between countries. We need to be constantly aware of employing the strategies such as washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining a physical distance (social distancing) from one another. To prevent the development of stronger variants, let us first reduce the spread of active ones and hope that these are the last days of Corona.