Boris Johnson says some evidence new Covid variant in the UK may be more deadly

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) at Downing Street on January 15, 2021 in London, England.

Dominic Lipinski | Getty Images

LONDON —There is “some evidence” a new Covid variant first identified in the U.K. could be more deadly than the original strain, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday.

“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 discovered in London and the southeast (of England) — may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson told a news conference.

He added that all the evidence suggests the vaccines from PfizerBioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford University, the two currently being used in the U.K., remain effective against both the old and new variants of the virus.

The evidence is still at a preliminary stage and it’s being assessed by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which advises the British government.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, has an unusually high number of mutations and was already associated with a more efficient and rapid transmission.

Scientists first detected this mutation in September. It has since been found in at least 44 countries, including the U.S., which has reported its presence in 12 states.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the modeled trajectory of the variant in the United States “exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.”

Speaking alongside Johnson on Friday, the U.K.’s chief scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance, said there is now early evidence that there’s an increased risk for those who have the new variant, compared with the old virus.

“If you took … a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” Vallance said.

He described the data as not being strong yet, and highlighted more concern regarding other Covid variants found in Brazil and South Africa.

The U.K. is currently in its third full lockdown with infection rages surging just before Christmas due to the new variant. The country reported a further 1,401 deaths on Friday and it has the highest coronavirus mortality rate in Europe with 96,166 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

— CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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