What causes a coronavirus variant?
During every coronavirus infection, the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes many new copies of itself. For each new copy, the virus has to duplicate its genome. And during this duplication, small errors can occur, so that each new copy of the genome is slightly different from the last.
In short, these errors are the mutations that create a coronavirus variant. These mutations happen all the time, creating more and more variants, but most have no effect on how the virus behaves. Occasionally though, a mutation will cause a change in some aspect of how the virus behaves. These are the ‘variants of concern’ that we have been hearing about.
Why are so many variants emerging now?
Because of the constant mutations that occur as the virus replicates, there are likely thousands or even millions of variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The more times the virus replicates (and the greater the number of people infected), the more mutations will occur and the more variants we will have.
With over 112 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, it is normal and expected for there to be this many variants.
However, headlines seem to be filled with news of new variants of concern. The reason for this is not that we’re suddenly getting more virus mutations or variants, but that the virus likely now has more selective pressure for variants that help it in some way.
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