“These two additional mutations may interfere more with vaccine effectiveness in the South African variant than in the UK variant,” Dr Julian W Tang, honorary associate professor and clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, told The Telegraph in January. This combination caused some concern amid a backdrop of soaring case rates in Brazil.
In April, an article in the British Medical Journal said: “The newly identified Brazilian variant is 1.4-2.2 times more transmissible than previous variants, indicating that it may reach other corners of the world soon if the international flights are not suspended immediately. This is going to be a big threat for highly populous countries.”
But, as with beta, the variant failed to outcompete alpha.
Next was delta, which was found in India and until now was the variant most feared by scientists. Its mutations meant it was not as good at dodging antibodies as beta, but better at infecting people than alpha.
Delta was at least 50 per cent more contagious than alpha, and alpha was 50 per cent more infectious than the original Wuhan form of the virus. It reached the UK in late March and, by the end of June, accounted for 99 per cent of all cases.
A “delta-plus” variant raised alarm because it had the infectivity of delta and also the vaccine-evading K417N mutation found in beta. But this also soon faded from view.
Only two of the 12 Greek-named variants have had an impact on the pandemic, with the others making little difference. The question now is what the 13th will do.