Boris Johnson: New variant may have ‘higher degree of mortality’
Britain's chief health and science officials have confirmed the new strain is more contagious but have previously insisted there is no evidence it is more lethal or caused more serious illness. But Mr Peston said the Government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) had now concluded it "may be a bit more lethal than the existing strain".
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Mr Peston cited a statement from Imperial College's Professor Neil Ferguson, a Nervtag member, as saying: "It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty."
The statement cited by Mr Peston set out a 1.3-fold increased risk of death with the variant but also highlighted that only some types of testing could specify which variant of the virus a patient had contracted.
He quoted Prof Ferguson as saying: "Four groups - Imperial, LSHTM, PHE and Exeter - have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death - that suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death.
"So for 60 year-olds, 13 in 1,000 might die compared with 10 in 1,000 for old strains.
"The big caveat is that we only know which strain people were infected with for about 8 percent of deaths."
Coronavirus new variant map
The new variant of coronavirus is now thought to be deadlier than the original virus
Boris Johnson later confirmed there is "some evidence" to suggest the new Covid-19 variant is associated with "a higher degree of mortality".
The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: "We've been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."
Mr Johnson said deaths will remain high for at least "a little while to come".
He said: "The death numbers will continue to be high at least for a little while to come."
His warning came as the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the variants which had emerged in South Africa and Brazil may also be less susceptible to the vaccines that have been developed.
He said: "We will find out how effective the vaccines are against this.
"It is the case that both the South African and Brazilian identified variants have more differences in shape which might mean they are recognised differently by antibodies.
"I think it is too early to know the effect that will have on the vaccination in people and it is worth remembering that the response of the vaccine is very, very high antibody levels, so they may overcome some of this.
"We don't know but there's obviously a cause for concern."
Health chiefs have warned the new Coronavirus strain might be less susceptible to the vaccines that have been developed
Sir Patrick said the coronavirus variant, which first emerged in Kent, appears to come with "an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility".
He told the Downing Street briefing: "For the original version of the virus, if you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die, with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.
"That's the sort of change for that sort of age group."
"I want to stress that there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is of concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today."
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