Gizmodo: Scientists now worried the UK coronavirus variant is deadlier
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an unsettling announcement on Friday about B 1.1.7, the variant of the coronavirus first found in the UK last fall that’s become widespread in the country and elsewhere. According to data newly analyzed by UK scientists, B 1.1.7 is not only more transmissible than earlier strains, but it may also be more likely to cause death. Though these conclusions are still preliminary, they do appear to be worth taking seriously.
The announcement was based on data assessed by the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, or NERVTAG, an independent group of scientists that has helped shape the country’s pandemic response. Last December, their work studying B 1.1.7 solidified the consensus that the variant was more transmissible than previously circulating strains. Initially, their analysis found no evidence that B 1.1.7 was causing more severe illness or death in the population than before. But that’s no longer the case.
According to their new paper released Friday, there are now several independent analyses of the case data collected in recent weeks pointing to the same trend—an uptick in people dying from B 1.1.7 compared to people infected with other strains of the virus. Though the exact numbers differ between groups, they suggest that B 1.1.7 is about 30% more likely to cause death than previous strains. Note that, while a 30% increase sounds huge, the overall mortality rate would still be somewhere around 1%.
“This is of course quite concerning, given the speed at which this variant has overtaken circulating strains across different regions and our inability to control general transmission in many parts of the world,” Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada who wasn’t involved in the new research, told Gizmodo in an email.
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