Early evidence suggests the variant of coronavirus that emerged in the United Kingdom towards the end of last year may be more deadly, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
Based on preliminary data briefing by scientists at the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, Johnson admitted that it would seem the new variant was deadlier but stressed that the two vaccines being administered in the UK -- Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca -- are effective against all variants.
“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 (of England) -- may be associated with a higher degree of mortality," Johnson said on Friday in his address at a virtual briefing from 10 Downing Street.
"It is largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS (National Health Service) is under so much intense pressure,” he said.
“All current evidence shows both vaccines remain effective against the old and new coronavirus variant,” he said.
The new variant was first detected in Kent in September. It is now the most common form of the virus in England and Northern Ireland, and has spread to more than 50 other countries.
It was already classified as a more highly-transmissible variant but its risk level was so far not believed to be any greater than the original strain.
“There is evidence that there is an increased risk for people who have the new variant, compared to the old variant," said Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser who joined Johnson at the briefing.
He, however, stressed that the data is "uncertain", but suggests that for a man in his 60s, the risk of death with the new variant is 13 in 1,000 rather than the original 10 in 1000, making it about 30 per cent more dangerous.
But he pointed out that people who have received the vaccine appear to be immune to the new variant, and people who have previously been infected with the original variant appear to be immune to the new variant.
"So there's good news on the vaccine," said Vallance, stressing on the overall message of the importance of people strictly following the lockdown rules in place to keep the infections under control.
Johnson also sought to highlight the "unprecedented" effort underway with the vaccination programme, which has now covered 5.4 million people with their first dose of the two-dose vaccines, with 400,000 new doses delivered in the last 24 hours alone.
It comes as the UK registered another 1,401 daily deaths from the deadly virus, taking the country's overall toll from the pandemic to 95,981.