As Covid cases continue to rise as we move into winter, the Scottish government is keeping a close eye on changes in infection rates and hospitalisations to reduce the impact of the pandemic on health services in the colder months.
On October 19th, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged concerns about a new Delta variant in the UK.
Writing on Twitter, Mrs Sturgeon stated that her cabinet discussed the "need to monitor" the new variant.
"More generally, cases here - though lower than few weeks ago - remain higher than we’d like,” she continued. "So pls take care: wear masks, wash hands, ventilate indoor spaces & get vaccinated."
The last time a new variant was found, it proved to be more contagious and with a higher resistance to vaccinations than previous strains.
Here’s all we know about the new AY.4.2 coronavirus variant and its symptoms.
What is the AY.4.2 coronavirus variant?
Despite the AY.4.2 being mentioned by politicians now, the variant was actually identified back in July 2021.
There are thousands of Covid variants around the world, many of them harmless to humans.
Viruses mutate naturally, so it’s not surprising we’ve seen more Covid variants during the pandemic.
Since July, AY.4.2 has been growing gradually.
It features new mutations that affect the spike protein, which the virus can use to penetrate our own cells.
It’s believed that AY.4.2 is responsible for 10% of infections during October in the UK.
What are the symptoms of the new Delta variant?
There is some initial concern that AY.4.2 could be up to 10% more infectious than the Delta or Alpha variant.
Scientists are currently studying the variant to determine whether it is more transmissible or comes with any other symptoms that could make it more dangerous than other variants.
However, the research is in the early stages right now and the variant’s progression could be a localised demographic event within the UK.
If they do find anything of note, AY.4.2 would be classes as a variant of concern, but there is no discussion about doing so at the moment.
Experts believe that AY.4.2 is unlikely to take hold. Nonetheless, the Scottish government seems to be keeping an eye on the variant just in case.
Where did the AY.4.2 coronavirus variant come from?
It’s not yet clear where AY.4.2 originally come from, but further cases of the variant have been found in Denmark and the US.
New infections from AY.4.2 have already begun to drop in Denmark.
How are Covid variant names decided?
AY.4.2 doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Delta and Alpha do.
Variants are not given Greek letter names until they are classified as variants under investigation.
It’s expected that AY.4.2 will be given this rank soon, at which point it will be renamed to another Greek letter, similar to Delta and Alpha.
The name AY.4.2 is a combination of scientific classifications of the variant subtype, AY.4, and the S:Y145H spike mutation that sets it apart.
Some commentators have already given AY.4.2 the nickname ‘Delta Plus’, causing some confusion as a previous Delta variant was already dubbed this a few months ago.