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The UKHSA says it is the "worst one we've seen so far" and has a spike protein that is "dramatically" different to the original COVID strain.
The variant also has 30 mutations - twice as many as the Delta variant - and these mutations are likely to evade the immune response generated by prior infection and vaccination.
But the good news is that B.1.1.529 can be detected with a normal PCR test.
Spike proteins are what viruses use to get into human cells, and some vaccines work by training the body to recognise the spikes and neutralise them.
Mutations on the spike could therefore potentially prove problematic.
But with only a handful of recorded cases - three in Botswana, around 53 in South Africa and one in Hong Kong from someone who had travelled from South Africa - scientists are hopeful it can be contained.