United Kingdom

Mutant Covid strain ‘may be significantly more deadly than original virus’


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The new coronavirus strain that emerged in Kent last year is more deadly than the original, Boris Johnson has confirmed.

He told a Downing Street press conference: ‘It also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – that was first identified in London and the south east – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’

He added: ‘It is largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure with another 40,261 positive cases since yesterday, we have 38,562 Covid patients now in hospital – that’s 78% higher than the first peak in April.’

The PM went on to say all current evidence shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines remain effective against the old and new variant, adding that the immunisation programme is continuing at an ‘unprecedented rate’, with 5.4 million people having received their first dose.

He said: ‘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.’

The Government’s Chief Scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said there was ‘no real evidence’ people hospitalised with the new strain were more likely to die, but there was some ‘uncertain’ evidence people who test positive with the mutant variant were at a greater risk of death.

He said: ‘When we look at data from hospitals, so patients who are in hospital with the virus, the outcomes for those with the original virus or the the new variant look the same. So 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 have tested positive – so anyone who has tested positive – there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant compared to the old virus.’

He stressed the evidence ‘is not yet strong’ but said to put it into context: ‘If you took somebody in their 60s – 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.

‘With the new variant for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die. That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group – an increase from 10 to 13 or 14 out of 1,000. And you will see that across the different age groups as well.’

The new strain was already shown to be 30-70% more infectious, but it previously was not believed to be more deadly.

Earlier, the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) told ITV’s Robert Peson that the mutant strain may be a bit more lethal than the original strain.

Prof Neil Ferguson said: ‘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 1000 might die compared with 10 in 1000 for old strains.’

But he said ‘the big caveat’ is that we only know which strain people were infected with for about 8% of deaths.

He explained: ‘Only about 25% of people who eventually die from Covid-19 get a pillar 2 test before they are hospitalised (at which point they get a pillar 1 test, but pillar 1 tests don’t tell us which strain they were infected with).

‘And we can only distinguish the new variant from the old variant for about 1/3 of pillar 2 tests.

‘All that said, the signal is there and is consistent across different age groups, regions and ethnicities.’

More to follow


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