UK chief scientist says new virus variant may be more deadly

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Friday Jan. 22, 2021. Johnson announced that the new variant of COVID-19, which was first discovered in the south of England, may be linked with an increase in the mortality rate. (Leon Neal/Pool via AP)

LONDON – There is some evidence that a new coronavirus variant first identified in southeast England carries a higher risk of death .than the original strain, the British government’s chief scientific adviser said Friday -- though he stressed that the data is uncertain

Patrick Vallance told a news 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 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die.”

“With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” he said.

But Vallance stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong" and more research is needed.

In contrast to that uncertainty, he said, there is growing confidence that the variant is more easily passed on than the original coronavirus strain. He said it appears to be between 30% and 70% more transmissible.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization's technical lead on COVID-19, said studies were underway to look at the transmission and severity of new virus variants.

She said so far “they haven’t seen an increase in severity” but that more transmission could lead to “an overburdened health care system” and thus more deaths.