New data presented to Ministers by scientists suggests the variant could kill up to 30 percent more people than the original strain. The variant, first discovered in Kent just before Christmas, is thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible and led to a rapid surge in cases at the end of last year.
However, in new evidence which adds hope to Brits being able to exit the current lockdowns currently imposed across the UK, scientists say they are increasingly confident the strain can be combatted by the vaccines being rolled out.
So far 5.4 million people have received their first dose of the Covid jab, with more than 400,000 more people immunised over the past 24 hours.
It means the UK remains on track to provide vaccines to the 13 million most vulnerable by February 15.
More to follow...
Speaking from Downing Street this evening in a televised coronavirus briefing, the Prime Minister said: "I must tell you this afternoon that we've been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."
As a result, the Prime Minister said the UK death toll would "continue to be high for a little while to come".
In a sombre message to the nation, Mr Johnson added: "It's largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure, with another 40,261 positive cases since yesterday, we have 38,562 Covid patients now in hospital, that's 78 percent higher than the first peak in April, and tragically there have been further 1,401 deaths.
"It is more important than ever that we remain vigilant in following the rules and that we stay at home, protect the NHS, and thereby save lives."