British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the new variant of COVID-19 first identified in England could also be associated with a higher level of mortality although he said evidence showed both vaccines getting used within the country are effective against it.
Johnson said the effect of the new variant, which is already known to be more transmissible, was putting the health service under “intense pressure”.
“We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there’s some evidence that the new variant – the variant that was first discovered in London and also the southeast (of England) – could also be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he told a news briefing.
Johnson said however all current evidence showed both vaccines remained effective against old and new variants.
Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said the evidence about mortality levels was “not yet strong”, and came from a “series of various bits of information”, stressing there was great uncertainty round the data.
He said once people reached hospital, there was no greater risk, but there have been signs that people who had the united kingdom variant were at more risk overall.
“There’s no real evidence of a rise in mortality for those in hospital. However, when data are checked out in terms of these who’ve been tested positive … there’s evidence that there’s an increased risk for those that have the new variant, compared to the old virus,” he said.
He said for a person in his sixties, the typical risk was that 10 in 1,000 people that got infected would be expected to die, but that this rose to roughly 13 or 14 people in 1,000 with the new variant – a 30-40 percent increase.
“I want to stress that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get an exact handle on it,” he said.
“But it obviously may be a concern that this has a rise in mortality also as a rise in transmissibility.”
But Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from London, said scientists seemed more concerned about the growing evidence that suggested new variants recorded in South Africa and Brazil had features that would reduce the potency of the vaccines that are developed thus far .
“They know that the united kingdom variant are often treated but these other two there could also be some problems,” he said.
“So concerns that are being raised about people arriving into the country from these infected areas, and what would happen given the numbers are already very high if these particular strains began to begin within the population too.”
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