Evidence UK Covid variant causes higher mortality says Johnson

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UK prime minister Boris Johnson, © PA Wire/PA Images
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British prime minister Boris Johnson has said there was evidence a new variant of Covid-19 discovered late last year could be associated with higher mortality.

"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 south east - may be associated with a higher degree of mortality," he told a news briefing.

Mr Johnson said all the current evidence showed both vaccines remain effective against old and new variants.

Speaking at today's Covid-19 press briefing, the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance reaffirmed that the coronavirus variant which emerged in Kent is “a common variant comprising a significant number of cases” and transmits up to 70 per cent more easily than the original virus.

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He added that among people who have tested positive for Covid-19, there is “evidence that there is an increased risk” of death for those who have the new variant compared with the old virus.

In Ireland, it is thought this UK variant accounts for 60 per cent of recent cases detected here, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.

'No real evidence'

He cautioned, however, that this is based on evidence which is “not yet strong” and there is “no real evidence of an increase in mortality” among those hospitalised by the variant.

“These data are currently uncertain, and we don’t have a very good estimate of the precise nature or indeed whether it is an overall increase, but it looks like it is,” he added.

Sir Patrick said the Brazilian and South African coronavirus variants are of more concern than the UK strain because there are fears they may be less susceptible to vaccines.

The chief scientific adviser told the Downing Street press conference: “We know less about how much more transmissible they are. We are more concerned that they have certain features that they might be less susceptible to vaccines.

The death numbers will continue to be high at least for a little while to come.

“They are definitely of more concern than the one in the UK at the moment, and we need to keep looking at it and studying it very carefully.”

Mr Johnson said deaths in the UK will remain high over the coming days and weeks.

“The death numbers will continue to be high at least for a little while to come,” he said.

The UK's chief scientific adviser added: “The death rate is awful and it’s going to stay, I’m afraid, high for a little while before it starts coming down, that was always what was predicted from the shape of this.

“I think the information about the new variant doesn’t change that.”

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