By Susy Hodges – London
It’s the news about the new British variant of Covid-19 that nobody wanted to hear.
This new variant was first discovered in southeast England last autumn and has quickly become the most prevalent form of the virus in the nation. It is already known to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original, but now there are suggestions it may be up to 30 percent more lethal.
The government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance stressed the evidence about mortality levels was not yet strong, and said there was still great uncertainty around the data.
He said once people reached hospital there was no greater risk but there were signs that people who had the British variant were at more risk overall.
Vallance explained that for a man in his sixties, the average risk was that 10 in 1,000 people who got infected would be expected to die, but that this rose to roughly 13 or 14 people in l,000 with the new variant.
Scientists have reacted by urging tighter controls and one said the news could take the country back to “square one”.
It is also likely to increase the concerns of EU leaders who were already considering strengthening border measures against the new British variant. The emergence of the new variant quickly led to travel bans across the world but despite these measures it has been found in at least 50 other nations.
Vallance said there was more concern about two other variants of the virus that had emerged in South Africa and Brazil. He said they had certain features which mean they might be less susceptible to vaccines.
The prime minister warned of stricter travel curbs on Friday and continued lockdown measures, saying the nation’s infection rate remains “forbiddingly high”.
Britain has recorded more than 3.5 million Covid infections and its death toll is approaching 100,000, the 5th highest in the world.
The bright news amidst the gloom is that the number of new infections in the nation was estimated to be shrinking by as much as 4 percent a day, and the roll-out of the two vaccines is moving ahead swiftly.