Jan. 25, 2021 -- The coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom may also be deadlier than previous strains of the virus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday at a news conference.
“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,” Johnson said.
Evidence shows that vaccines currently being used in the UK “remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant,” he said, adding that the vaccination program will continue “at an unprecedented rate.”
UK health officials had previously tried to assure the public that a higher mortality rate did not appear to be associated with the variant. That no longer appears to be the case. They have warned it was 30-70% more transmissible.
Speaking at the same news conference, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, said more research needs to be done on the variant.
"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 a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility,” he said, according to the BBC.
He said the variant does not kill more people who end up in the hospital but does result in more deaths among everybody who tested positive for the virus.
"If you took... a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus,” he said. “With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.”
The possibility that the variant is perhaps 30-40% deadlier cast a cloud over government efforts to battle the pandemic.
The UK has reported almost 3.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 96,000 deaths -- fifth most in the world in both categories.
Johnson noted on Friday that 1,401 deaths and 40,261 new cases were reported since the day before, and the UK has more than 38,000 people hospitalized with COVID.
He said the vaccination program has inoculated one in 10 adults, 71% of people in their 80s, and two-thirds of people in elderly care homes.
“There is much more to do, and the target remains very stretching indeed, but we remain on track to reach our goal of offering a first dose to everyone in the top four priority groups by the middle of February,” he said.
The variant is now the dominant strain in England. It has now spread to 50 nations, including the United States.
Public Health England said last month that the variant existed in the U.K. since September and circulated at very low levels until mid-November.