In addition to being more contagious, the UK variant of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) seems more deadly, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.
“It … now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant — the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast (of England) — may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said at a news conference at Downing Street.
According to the UK Government’s scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, the mortality risk for men above the age of 60 is 10 for every 1,000 cases, but with the new strain, 13 to 14 out of every 1,000 infected men over 60 might be expected to die.
While noting that there was great uncertainty surrounding these figures, Mr. Vallance stressed that there was concern that increased mortality and transmissibility may be associated with the new strain.
The British variant continues to spread around the world and is now present in at least 60 countries and territories.
The United Kingdom has the highest COVID-19 mortality in Europe, registering close to 96,000 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic, including about 1,401 in the last 24 hours. It is now under lockdown for the third time as it tries to curb a new surge in infections, blamed on the new variant.
A massive vaccination campaign has been launched, with 5.4 million people receiving a first dose of the vaccine, a record 400,000 of them in the previous 24 hours.
The lockdown seems to have had some effect since the number of cases has been decreasing as has the reproduction rate of the virus. Scientists advising the UK Government now estimate that the reproduction rate is between 0.8 and 1, down from last week’s rate of 1.2 to 1.3.
According to the Office for National Statistics, one in 55 persons in England had COVID-19 between 10 and 16 January. The estimate was higher – 1 in 50 – between 27 December and 2 January.
However, hospitals are under pressure, with some 38,562 COVID-19 patients hospitalised, 78% more than during the first peak in April, Boris Johnson said.
These developments have led the UK Government to repeat its appeals to the public to remain at home as much as possible and comply with anti-COVID measures.
It has also toughened sanctions against lockdown violators: on Thursday evening, police broke up a wedding with about 400 invitees that was being held in a London school.