The difference between a variant and a strain – Everything you need to know about the new Covid-19


Professor Ian Sanne, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, said there's a big difference between a 'strain' and a 'variant' following the announcement of two new variants of the virus.

South Africa, along with the rest of the world, has been trying to digest the news of two new variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Dubbed the 501.V2 Variant, it was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape and has since spread to several other provinces.

Since then, people have been using the words ‘new strain’ and ‘new variant’ interchangeability on social media and in various media reports.

Professor Ian Sanne, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 said that it was important that we used the right terms for the right context.

“A new strain would cause much bigger concern around all the hard work that has been achieved up until now. Essentially, we would be set back to zero and we would be dealing with a new strain of virus circulating around the world. But, that’s not the case. This is a variant and it has some genetic changes. It represents viral evolution.”

Over the weekend, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson essentially cancelled Christmas, saying that millions must cancel Christmas plans and stay home because the new COVID-19 variant was spreading far more quickly.

Professor Sanne noted that the South African variant was not the same as the one discovered in the United Kingdom

“The variant isn’t the same as the UK variant. There aren't two different viruses but they are different variants of the same strain of the coronavirus.”

He stressed that the new variant was more transmissible and had a higher viral load.

So, does the higher viral load mean it’s more dangerous?

“That hasn’t been established yet but what we are seeing is much higher case rates and transmissions. The case rates have gone through the roof… it means people need to protect themselves. That is hand sanitising, mask-wearing and avoid unnecessary movement between provinces.” Sanne said.

The professor has warned that the new strain is more contagious than the previous dominant variant, further stressing the importance of adhering to COVID-19 health and safety rules more than ever before.


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