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World

British PM says new variant may carry higher risk of death

  • Johnson said that the impact of the new variant, which is already known to be more transmissable, was putting the health service under “intense pressure”.
Published January 23, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new English variant of COVID-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortality although he said evidence showed that both vaccines being used in the country are effective against it.

Johnson said that the impact of the new variant, which is already known to be more transmissable, was putting the health service under “intense pressure”.

“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 discovered in London and the southeast (of England) - may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he told a news briefing.

Johnson said however that all the current evidence showed both vaccines remained effective against old and new variants.

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said the evidence about mortality levels was “not yet strong”, and came from a “series of different bits of information”, stressing there was great uncertainty around the data.

He said that once people reached hospital, there was no greater risk, but there were signs that people who had the UK variant were at more risk overall.

“There’s no real evidence of an increase in mortality for those in hospital. However, when data are looked at in terms of those who’ve been tested positive... there is evidence that there’s an increased risk for those who have the new variant, compared to the old virus,” he said.

He said that for a man in his sixties, the average risk was that 10 in 1,000 people who got infected would be expected to die, but that this rose to roughly 13 or 14 people in 1,000 with the new 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,” he said.

“But it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility.”

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