Variants are viruses that have changed or mutated while reproducing inside an infected person’s cells. The variant can be spread to others and may continue to mutate as it moves from person to person.
New variant strains of COVID-19 were recently identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and have since been identified in many other countries around the world. These strains are known as variants of concern, as they appear to spread more easily than other COVID-19 strains.
Ontario is monitoring for these variants of concern. See Ontario COVID-19 Data here.
What we know
Scientists and public health officials around the world are studying these variant strains, including how the current vaccines may help protect against them.
Current evidence suggests these variants of concern are more contagious and can spread more easily than the original COVID-19 strain.
While it is not yet clear whether these new variants tend to cause more severe illness, there is concern about the impacts if they become common in our communities. The increased spread of COVID-19 would result in more illness, hospitalizations and deaths.
Symptoms in variant cases are the same as usual COVID-19 symptoms, including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sore throat. See the full list of symptoms.
Learn more about COVID-19 variants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating globally
These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.
The United Kingdom (UK) identified a variant called B.1.1.7 with a large number of mutations in the fall of 2020. This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. It has since been detected in many countries around the world.
In South Africa, another variant called B.1.351 emerged independently of B.1.1.7. Originally detected in early October 2020, B.1.351 shares some mutations with B.1.1.7.
In Brazil, a variant called P.1 emerged that was first identified in travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at an airport in Japan, in early January. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.
What we do not know
Scientists are working to learn more about these variants, and more studies are needed to understand:
How widely these new variants have spread
How the disease caused by these new variants differs from the disease caused by other variants that are currently circulating
How these variants may affect existing therapies, vaccines, and tests
What it means
Public health officials are studying these variants quickly to learn more to control their spread. They want to understand whether the variants:
Spread more easily from person-to-person
Cause milder or more severe disease in people
Are detected by currently available viral tests
Respond to medicines currently being used to treat people for COVID-19
Change the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines
Reduce your risk and prevent the spread
Though COVID-19 variants of concern are more contagious, they spread – and can be protected against – in the same ways as the usual virus.
It is critical to continue taking action to protect yourself and others from all strains of COVID-19:
Only travel if it’s essential, and isolate for 14 days if you do.
Stay home – save lives and don’t put others at risk.
Practise physical distancing – stay 2 metres away from anyone who is not in your household.
Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often.
Learn about face coverings – how to use, clean and dispose.
Get the facts about COVID-19 – basics, symptoms and treatment.
Get sector-specific resources to prevent COVID-19covid 19 in the workplace
Updates and resources from Public Health Ontario.
Get the latest information on recently identified variant strains of the COVID-19 Virus