U.K. COVID Variant May Be 30 Percent More Deadly Than Original Strain

The U.K. COVID-19 mutation that has been linked to a rapid transmission of the virus may also lead to a higher risk of death, the British prime minister has said.

Leading a press conference at 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson said: "There is some evidence that the new variant may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."

Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said data on patients in hospitals showed the outcomes for those with the old and new variants are the same. But with anyone who has tested positive, there's evidence of an increased risk of death in those who have the new variant compared to the original strain.

The data has been assessed by scientists on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which briefed the government prior to the conference. All the evidence remains at a preliminary stage, with Vallance stressing that the data is currently "uncertain". The new variant appears to be around 30 percent more deadly, the data showed. Of those infected with the original strain of COVID-19, 10 people out of 1,000 might be expected to die, Vallance said. With the new U.K. variant, roughly 13 or 14 people out of 1,000 might die. This has been seen across different age groups, he added.

Johnson said there are more than 38,000 people in hospitals across the U.K, a number that is 78 percent higher than at peak of the first wave. More than 40,000 people have been infected with COVID in the last 24 hours and the NHS is under "significant strain", he said. The U.K. recorded its highest number of deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic this week when 1,820 people died in a day. The U.K. COVID death toll now stands at more than 95,000.

When asked whether, in light of the new information on the U.K. variant, he expects the current death trends to rise more steeply in Britain, Johnson said that sadly he believes it will "for a while to come".

Boris Johnson press conference
Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference the new U.K. variant may be deadlier than the original COVID strain Getty/Leon Neal

So far, the U.K. has vaccinated more than 5.3 million people, with 400,000 vaccinations carried out in the last 24 hours, the prime minister said. Vallance said there is "increasing confidence" and clinical data to suggest that COVID vaccines will be equally effective in providing protection against the new variant as well as the original.

There is "more concern" about the susceptibility of the South African and Brazilian variants to vaccinations, he added, with laboratories around the world investigating it. The new variant was first detected in Kent, south-east England, in September 2020. It has since become the dominant version of the virus in England and Northern Ireland and has spread to more than 50 other countries.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows the variant, known as VOC 202012/01 or B.1.1.7, has now been reported in at least 20 U.S. states.