LONDON (AP) – There is evidence that a new variant of coronavirus first identified in south-east England carries a higher risk of death than the original strain, the science adviser said on Friday chief of the UK government – although he pointed out that the data is uncertain
Patrick Vallance said at a press conference that “there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant”.
He said that for a man in his 60s with the original version of the virus, “the average risk is that for every 1,000 people infected, about 10 are unfortunately expected to die.”
“With the new variant, for every 1,000 people infected, around 13 or 14 people can be expected to die,” he said.
But Vallance stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and that more research is needed.
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Contrary to that uncertainty, he said, there is growing confidence that the variant is more easily transmitted than the original strain of coronavirus. He said it appears to be between 30% and 70% more transmissible.
Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization technical officer on COVID-19, said studies were underway to examine the transmission and severity of the new virus variants.
She has so far said “they haven’t seen an increase in severity” but that greater transmission could lead to “an overburdened health care system” and therefore more deaths.
Evidence that the new variant is deadlier can be found in an article prepared by a group of scientists advising the government on new respiratory viruses, based on several studies.
British scientists said that although initial analyzes suggest the strain, first identified in September, has not caused more serious illness, several more recent ones suggest it could. However, the number of deaths is relatively low and case fatality rates are affected by many factors, including the care patients receive, their age, and their health beyond COVID-19.
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British scientists stress that the information so far has major limitations and that they are unaware of how representative the cases included in the analyzes are of what is happening across the country or elsewhere.
An analysis did not find an increased risk of death in people admitted to a hospital with the new strain. In another, the odds of being admitted to a hospital with the new strain compared to the previously dominant strain were no different.
There is a delay in reporting hospitalizations after infection and another delay between infection and death, so officials expect to hear more in several weeks.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “There is a bit of a difference in the estimated increased risk of death between the different tests, although most, but not all, show a risk increased deaths, ”he said. .
Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, said that “the data are limited and the conclusions preliminary. However, an increased case fatality rate is certainly possible with a virus that has increased its range in transmission.”
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UK officials say they are confident that vaccines approved for use against COVID-19 will be effective against the new strain identified in the country.
But Vallance said scientists were concerned the variants identified in Brazil and South Africa were no longer resistant to vaccines, adding that more research needed to be done.
Concerns over the newly identified variants have triggered a slew of new travel restrictions around the world. Many countries have closed their borders to British travelers and the UK has halted flights from Brazil and South Africa.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there may be other restrictions.
“We may have to go further to protect our borders,” he said.
Britain has recorded 95,981 deaths among those testing positive for the coronavirus, the highest confirmed total in Europe.
The UK is currently on lockdown in an attempt to slow the latest outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak. Pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and many shops are closed, and people largely have to stay at home.
The number of new infections has started to decline, but deaths remain excruciatingly high, averaging more than 1,000 per day, and the number of hospital patients is 80% higher than the pandemic’s first peak in the spring.
Johnson, who has often been accused of giving overly optimistic predictions about easing coronavirus restrictions, looked grim.
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“We will have to live with the coronavirus one way or another for a long time,” he said, adding that “it is an open question” when the measures could be relaxed.
“At this point you have to be very, very careful,” he said.
“I don’t think this virus is going anywhere,” he said. “It will last, probably, forever.”