The fast-spreading “U.K. variant” of the coronavirus might also be more deadly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday, an alarming development that will burden the British health system and reverberate around the world.
British scientists believe the variant is 30% to 70% more transmissible than the original version.
“In additional to spreading more quickly, it also now appears there is some evidence that the new variant — the variant that was first identified in London and the southeast — may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Mr. Johnson said in a Downing Street press conference.
However, “all evidence” suggests that available vaccines remain effective against the variant.
Reported cases of the coronavirus have decreased over the past two weeks, but U.S. scientists are worried about the fast-moving U.K. strain and another one detected in South Africa.
Until now, scientists felt confident the strain didn’t pose a more serious disease.
Mr. Johnson’s team said their conclusions are preliminary and based on limited evidence.
England’s chief scientific adviser, Dr. Patrick Vallance, offered an example: He said out of every 1,000 men over age 60 who test positive, roughly 10 would be expected to die under the original strain. They believe 13 to 14 would die under the new strain.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it,” Dr. Vallance said. “But it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today.”