On December 18, South Africa announced the detection of the mutation rapidly spreading and becoming the dominant strain in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
South Africa named the variant “501Y.V2” because of the N501Y mutation they found in the spike protein the virus uses to gain entry into cells in the body. This mutation was also found in the new strain the UK identified in December (but estimated to have been in circulation since September) with both regarded as increasing the transmissibility of the virus, making it spread more efficiently.
With the UK and South Africa alerting the World Health Organization to the new mutations in December, it noted that while both variants shared the N501Y mutation, they are different.
The variant in South Africa carries two other mutations in the spike protein which are not present in the UK strain. Experts said the mutations could affect how vaccines against Covid work.