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, The Associated Press reports.
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.
The evidence for the new variant being more deadly is in a paper prepared by a group of scientists that advises the government on new respiratory viruses, based on several studies. The British scientists said that although initial analyses suggested that the strain, first identified in September, did not cause more severe disease, several more recent ones suggest it might. However, the numbers of deaths are relatively small, and case fatality rates are affected by many things including the care patients get and their age and health beyond having Covid-19.