Preliminary data suggests that the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus may be more deadly.
The U.K. strain, called SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7, was first detected in southeast England in November. Its quick spread throughout the U.K. compelled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose a lockdown on the country in early January.
“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 southeast — may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson announced on Friday. “It’s largely the impact of this new variant that means the [National Health Service] is under such intense pressure.”
However, Patrick Vallance, the U.K.’s chief science adviser, said, “There’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers, and we need more work to get a precise handle on it.”
Out of 1,000 people in their 60s who get sick with COVID-19, 10 can be expected to die, Vallance said. The data suggest that the U.K. strain increases that number to 13 or 14.
Recent research from Imperial College London suggests that it may be 40% to 70% more transmissible than previous strains of the virus. Thus far, the U.K. variant does not appear to be resistant to either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
The strain is also in the U.S., having been identified in at least 20 states.