New Covid variant symptoms: can you spot signs of the new UK strain of coronavirus - and do vaccines work on it?

People with the new variant are more likely to experience symptoms such as a headache and fatigue, according to the ONS

Some Covid symptoms may be more common among people who have contracted the new variant of coronavirus, according to new figures released by the Office of National Statistics.

Boris Johnson also announced on 22 January that the variant could be more deadly than the original version, though this has yet to be unanimously confirmed.

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But how would you know which variant you have contracted, are the symptoms different, and does the vaccine work on the new strain?

Coronavirus symptoms have largely proven to be the same with the original and UK variant (Picture OLI SCARFF/Getty Images)Coronavirus symptoms have largely proven to be the same with the original and UK variant (Picture OLI SCARFF/Getty Images)
Coronavirus symptoms have largely proven to be the same with the original and UK variant (Picture OLI SCARFF/Getty Images)

This is what we know so far.

What are the symptoms of the new UK variant?

ONS Research carried out in England has reported that a cough, fatigue, muscle pain and sore throat may be more common in people who test positive for the new UK Covid variant.

The mutated strain was first discovered in Kent in September 2020, and has been identified as one of the main reasons for a significant increase in cases in the run up to Christmas, prompting the current lockdown.

The research was conducted on a random sample of 6,000 people, who reported that loss of taste and smell is a less common symptom - however it is still considered compatible with the new variant.

How was the research carried out?

The ONS conducted its research across two months, from mid-November 2020 until mid-January.

People who had tested positive for the old or new strain were asked what symptoms they had up to a week before their positive result.

Across 6,000 participants who tested positive for Covid, there was no difference found in levels of headaches, shortness of breath or diarrhoea and vomiting by those with the new or old variant. However certain symptoms were reported more frequently among people with the new strain.

In the group of approximately 3,500 people with the new variant:

- 35% said they had a cough

- 32% had fatigue

- 25% had muscle aches and pains

- 21.8% had a sore throat

Around 15% had a reduction in sense of taste and smell

In a group of 2,500 people with the old variant:

- 28% had a cough

- 29% had fatigue

- 21% had muscles aches and pains

- 19% had a sore throat

- 18% had a loss in both taste and smell

How deadly is the new strain?

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In a press briefing at Downing Street, the Prime Minister reported that the new variant could be considerably more deadly than the original version of Covid.

Johnson said: "In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant - the variant that was first identified in London and the south east - may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.

"It's largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure."

The UK variant is believed to be between 30 and 70 percent more transmissible.

Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, added: “There's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility."

He explained that initial research suggests the new variant could be around 30 percent more fatal that the initial strain.

The old variant has a fatality rate of around 10 in 1000, while the new variant has a slightly more deadly rate of 13 or 14 in 1,000.

Professor Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, has also suggested the new variant produces more of the virus within the body.

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This could explain why it is more transmissible and why symptoms are heightened.

The new strain has 23 changes in its genetic make up, compared to the original version.

Do vaccines work to immunise against the new strain?

Yes, all three UK-approved vaccines should work to immunise against the UK variant.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that research “continues to show that both the vaccines we're using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant,” referring to the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines currently being administered in the UK.

Moderna, the third approved vaccine which is not available until spring, has also concluded that the UK variant is no less likely to be neutralised using its vaccine.

Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, has also said that the first dose of the vaccine is the most significant, with the second working to boost immunity and deliver up to 95 percent success rate in vaccinating against the original and UK strains.

Are there other variants?

There have now been two other Covid variants identified in South Africa and Brazil, though their infection rates are not thought to be as high as the UK one.

Seventy seven cases of the South African variant have been reported in the UK, all from people who had travelled back from countries infected with the new strain.

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It has not yet been confirmed what the most common symptoms of this variant are, but Pfizer and Moderna have now reported their vaccines also work against the South African strain.

Scientists working on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have not confirmed whether their vaccine works against the South African virus, though research is underway.

Over 5 million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine, in the UK.