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Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19

Genetic variations of viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19 are not uncommon and many other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been previously observed around the world this year. Both new variants include mutations (i.e., changes to the genetic material in the virus) on the “spike” protein, which may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people. These variants have been termed variants of concern (VOCs) and have been associated with evidence of increased transmissibility, severity, and/or possible immune evasion with potential implications for reinfection and vaccine effectiveness.

Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have circulated globally. 

  • The United Kingdom (UK) identified a variant called B.1.1.7 (501Y.V1, VOC 202012/01), also referred to as Alpha with a large number of mutations in the fall of 2020. This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.
  • The variant B.1.351 (Beta) emerged in South Africa. Originally detected in early October 2020, B.1.351(501Y.V2) shares some mutations with B.1.1.7.
  • In Brazil, a variant called Gamma (P.1, previously P.1.1.28) emerged in January 2021. This variant was first identified in travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at an airport in Japan. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.
  • The Delta (B.1.617.2) variant was identified in India. The Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than early forms of SARS-CoV-2.
  • South Africa identified the variant Omicron (B.1.1.529) in November 2021. There is an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron, as compared to other variants of concern. The numerous mutations in Omicron’s viral genome and its sub-lineages attribute it a larger amount of viral fitness, owing to the alteration of the transmission and pathophysiology of the virus. With a rapid change to the viral structure, Omicron and its sub-variants, namely BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5, dominate the community with an ability to escape the neutralization efficiency induced by prior vaccination or infections. Similarly, several recombinant sub-variants of Omicron, namely XBB, XBD, and XBF, etc., have also emerged.

COVID-19 Variants of Concern -Guidelines, Policies and Standards

Canadian and International guidelines, policies and standards with regards to COVID-19 Variants of Concern that Infection Prevention and Control professionals may use to support their own documentation and best practices during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Date Modified: 2023-07-12