British PM Boris Johnson says COVID-19 variant in UK is more lethal

British scientists previously determined that the variant was able to spread between 30%-70% faster

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On Friday at a London news conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained that a coronavirus variant initially discovered in the U.K. in September, is possibly 30% deadlier than previous versions of the disease.

According to USA Today, British scientists previously determined that the variant, known as B.1.1.7, was able to spread between 30%-70% faster than the previous dominant strain in the country.

Read More: UK goes into ‘Tier 4’ lockdown as new ‘variant’ of COVID-19 spreads

In addition to spreading faster, “it may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said.

The previous average death rate of 60-year-olds in Britain from COVID-19 was roughly 10 per 1,000 cases, explained Sir Patrick Vallance, Johnson’s chief scientific adviser. With the new variant, about 13 or 14 out of 1,000 infected people might be expected to die, he said. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a meeting with President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to sign a strategic partnership deal with the president in the face of Russia’s ‘destabilising behaviour’ towards the country, at Downing Street on October 8, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Aaron Chown – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Vallance went on to say that there’s a great deal of uncertainty around these numbers, but there still is great concern that the variant has “an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility.”

The announcement contradicts past statement by British officials, who previously said there was no reason to believe the variant could make people sicker or cause more deaths. 

Research suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines will continue to be effective against the new variant in the U.K., which has now spread around the world, including to the U.S., according to USA Today.

Read More: First reported US case of COVID-19 variant found in Colorado

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent report it expects the fast-spreading variant to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March, causing an even greater spread of the disease. As of Jan. 20, CDC reported 144 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the U.S.

Luciana Borio, a COVID advisor to the Biden administration said she thinks it’s too early to say that the variant is directly leading to more deaths. She said that overburdened hospitals, as is currently the case in the U.K., could impact the quality of care, leading to more deaths. Borio also attributed the increased death rate to people avoiding or unable to get routine care during the pandemic.

“There isn’t yet a biological explanation for why this variant should be deadlier than the original version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19,” she said.

Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, said the news about the new variant should encourage people to “double-down” on their efforts to stay safe through mask-wearing, social distancing and getting vaccinated as soon they have access.

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