As has been reported over recent weeks, three notable COVID-19 variants emerged during December 2020 in the UK. The three Variants of Concern (VOC) have different origins: the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) is working in collaboration as part of the four Public Health Agencies of the UK with Academic partners to learn more about these variants in order to better understand how they may be transmitted and the effectiveness of currently licensed vaccines against them.

A representative number of samples are submitted from Scotland for genetic analysis by the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium. COG-UK delivers large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing and is an innovative partnership of NHS organisations, the four Public Health Agencies of the UK, 15 academic partners providing sequencing and analysis capacity, and the central sequencing hub of the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Dr Jim McMenamin, Incident Director for COVID-19, PHS commented:

"Whilst much of our attention has been focused on the UK Variant of Concern (VOC), PHS continues to work with COG-UK partners to keep the other VOC under review. To date PHS can confirm that three cases of the variant discovered in South Africa are in Scotland, and no cases of the Brazilian variant have been identified in Scotland. By continuing to review the results of a representative number of samples for this genetic typing, PHS keep a close eye on any changes over time and its implication for the public health. A publication of summary information on VOC can be found on the UK Government website (external website).

"Data on the number of VOC in Scotland will be published in due course."

The three notable variants are: 

  • UK variant (known as VOC 202012/01, or B.1.1.7 or 20I/501Y.V1) - emerged with an unusually large number of mutations. This variant spread rapidly across the UK and has since been detected in numerous countries around the world. This strain can be detected in routine diagnostic testing carried out by the UK laboratories – it shows as a mutation termed S-gene Target Failure (SGTF).  This allows this spread to be easily followed and reveals overall around 65% (as of 22/01/21) of all current cases are likely due to this strain in Scotland.
  • South Africa variant (known as VOC 202012/02 or B.1.351 or 20H/501Y.V2) - emerged independently of the UK Variant. This variant shares some mutations with the UK variant. To date three cases of this variant have been detected in Scotland.
  • Brazil variant (VOC 202101/02) - cases of this variant have been detected outside of Brazil. To date no cases have been identified in Scotland.
Last updated: 06 October 2022