New variant may carry higher risk of death -UK's Johnson

Johnson said that the impact of the new variant, which is already known to be more transmissable, was putting the health service under "intense pressure".

"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," he told a news briefing.

Johnson said however that all the current evidence showed both vaccines remained effective against old and new variants.

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said the evidence about mortality levels was "not yet strong," and came from a "series of different bits of information," stressing there was great uncertainty around the data.

He said that once people reached hospital, there was no greater risk, but there were signs that people who had the UK variant were at more risk overall.

"There's no real evidence of an increase in mortality for those in hospital. However, when data are looked at in terms of those who've been tested positive... there is evidence that there's an increased risk for those who have the new variant, compared to the old virus," he said.

He said 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 1,000 with the new variant.

Video Transcript

BORIS JOHNSON: So I must tell you this afternoon that 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.

It's largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure. With another 40,261 positive cases since yesterday, we have 38,562 COVID patients now in hospital, and that's 78% higher than the first peak in April. And, tragically, there have been a further 1,401 deaths.

All current evidence continues to show that both the vaccines we're currently using remain effective, both against the old variant and this new variant.

PATRICK VALLANCE: If you took somebody in their 60s, 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.

So that's the sort of change for that sort of age group. An increase from 10 to 13 or 14 out of 1,000. And you will see that across the different age groups, as well, a similar sort of relative increase in the risk.