There is some evidence that a new coronavirus variant first identified in southeast England carries a higher risk of death than the original strain, the British government’s chief scientific adviser said Friday — though he stressed that the data is uncertain
Patrick Vallance told a news conference that “there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant.” He said the increased risk for a 60-year-old man appeared to be from about one death per 1,000 infections to about 1.3 or 1.4 per 1,000.
But Vallance stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and more research is needed.
In contrast, he said, there is growing confidence that the variant is more easily passed on than the original coronavirus strain. He said it appears to be between 30% and 70% more transmissible.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organizations technical lead on COVID-19, said studies were underway to look at the transmission and severity of new virus variants.
She said so far “they haven’t seen an increase in severity” but that more transmission could lead to “an overburdened health care system” and thus more deaths.
British officials say they are confident that the vaccines that have been authorized for use against COVID-19 will be effective against the new strain identified in the country.
But Vallance said scientists are concerned that variants identified in Brazil and South Africa could be more resistant to vaccines, adding that more research needs to be done.
Britain has recorded 95,981 deaths among people who tested positive for the coronavirus, the highest confirmed total in Europe.
The U.K. is currently in a lockdown in an attempt to slow the latest surge of the coronavirus outbreak. Pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and many shops are closed, and people are required to stay largely at home.
The number of new infections has begun to fall, but deaths remain agonizingly high, averaging more than 1,000 a day, and the number of hospitalized patients is 80% higher than at the first peak of the pandemic in the spring.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has often been accused of giving overly optimistic predictions about relaxing coronavirus restrictions, sounded gloomy.
“We will have to live with coronavirus in one way or another for a long while to come,” he said, adding that “it’s an open question” when measures could be eased.
“At this stage you’ve got to be very, very cautious indeed,” he said.
“I don’t think this virus is going anywhere,” he said. “It’s going to be around, probably, forever.”
___ AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng contributed to this story.
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Jill Lawless, The Associated Press