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UK variant of coronavirus 'associated with higher mortality'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus on January 22 2021. Picture by Leon Neal/PA Wire
Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

The new variant of coronavirus that has emerged in the UK may be associated with a higher mortality rate, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned.

The prime minister told a No10 press conference: "We've been informed today that 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, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."

His warning came as the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the variants which had emerged in South Africa and Brazil may be less susceptible to the vaccines that have been developed.

Sir Patrick Vallance said the Kent variant appears to come with "an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility".

He said at Downing Street: "(For the original version of the virus) If you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die ... with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.

"That's the sort of change for that sort of age group."

He added: "I want to stress that there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is of concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today."

He also said the "awful" death rate will stay "high for a little while" before declining, regardless of the impact of the new variant.

The chief scientific adviser told the Downing Street press conference: "The death rate is awful and it's going to stay, I'm afraid, high for a little while before it starts coming down, that was always what was predicted from the shape of this.

"I think the information about the new variant doesn't change that."

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