The South African variant of Covid-19, two cases of which have now been detected in the UK, is likely to be more transmissible, may hit young people harder, and may be slightly more resistant to vaccines, scientists in South Africa believe.

However, research is still continuing to confirm the threat posed by the variant, which does not appear to provoke more serious symptoms or require different treatment.

Two cases belonging to this new category have been detected in the United Kingdom, British health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed. Both of them have come in contact with those who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.

South Africa’s health department said last week that a new genetic mutation of the virus had been discovered and might be responsible for a recent surge in infections there.

The variant has been named as 501.V2, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Twitter.

Younger people with no comorbidities are being infected by the new variant, South Africa has found. “Clinicians have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture- in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness,” Zweli Mkhize said.

There are also some fears that the more numerous individual mutations of the South African variant may make it able to “re-infect” individuals who have already caught the virus and recovered.

The new variant has multiple changes in the spike protein, the part of the virus that binds to cells inside the human body and that is also the main target for many of the antibodies produced during infection or after vaccination. Scientists have isolated one particular mutation – N501Y, common to both the new UK variant and that from South Africa – which they believe is important to its ability to spread fast.

(With inputs from agencies)