Scientists are urgently studying more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, such as those identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, to understand what threat they pose.
The UK, South Africa and Brazil variants could be much more contagious than earlier versions. All three have undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells. As a result, these variants seem to be better at infecting cells and spreading, according to the BBC.
However, there is no evidence that any of them cause much more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected.
As with the original version, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.
Measures such as washing your hands, keeping your distance from other people and wearing a face covering will still help prevent infections, and because the new variants appear to spread more easily it is important to be extra vigilant, the BBC said.