UK variant of coronavirus may be more deadly: PM Johnson

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on January 23, 2021

The UK-linked variant of the novel coronavirus may be more deadly than the original strain of the virus, early evidence suggests.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a press conference on Friday said, “We have 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 identified in London and the South East – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

“It is largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure,” added Johnson.

The impact of the new UK variant which has spread to parts of the world including India is being assessed by the Public Health England, Imperial College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Exeter, BBC reported.

The evidence of how deadly the new variant is has been accessed by experts on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), as per the report.

According to early assessment, there is a possibility that the new variant may be more deadly.

“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, but it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility,” Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advisor said at the conference.

Sir Vallance, emphasising that there is strong evidence of the virus being 30-70 per cent more transmissible said that it can affect anybody at any age, similarly to the original variant.

In terms of mortality, the chief scientific advisor explained, “If you took somebody in their sixties, a man in their sixties, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.”

“So that’s the sort of change for that sort of age group, an increase from 10 to 13 or 14 out of a thousand. And you will see that across the different age groups as well, a similar sort of relative increase in the risk,” he further explained stressing that there is still an uncertainty in the numbers.

Talking about the impact of the new variant on vaccines, he said that vaccines have the potential to neutralise the new variant as well.

“A very important clinical observation, which is that individuals who’ve been infected previously and have generated antibodies appear to be equally protected against original virus and new variant. So, there’s good clinical data as well to support the idea that the vaccines should be as effective against this virus as against the old one or thereabouts,” he said.

He also talked about two other variants that are of concern- one that was identified in South Africa, and one that was identified in Brazil.

“We know less about how much more transmissible they are. We are more concerned that they have certain features, which means they might be less susceptible to vaccines,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to compare between laboratories on this data, and we need to get more clinical information to understand how much of an effect, if any, there is on the vaccine, but they are definitely of more concern than the one in the UK at the moment,” he added.

Published on January 23, 2021

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