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UK chief scientist says new virus variant may be more deadly

There is some evidence that a new coronavirus variant first identified in southeast England carries a higher risk of death .than the original strain, the British government’s chief scientific adviser said Friday -- though he stressed that the data is uncertain

Patrick Vallance told a news conference that “there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant.” He said the increased risk for a 60-year-old man appeared to be from about one death per 1,000 infections to about 1.3 or 1.4 per 1,000.

But Vallance stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong" and more research is needed.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Friday Jan. 22, 2021. Johnson announced that the new variant of COVID-19, which was first discovered in the south of England, may be linked with an increase in the mortality rate. (Leon NealPool via AP)

In contrast, he said, there is growing confidence that the variant is more easily passed on than the original coronavirus strain. He said it appears to be between 30% and 70% more transmissible.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organizations technical lead on COVID-19, said studies were underway to look at the transmission and severity of new virus variants.

She said so far “they haven’t seen an increase in severity” but that more transmission could lead to “an overburdened health care system” and thus more deaths.

People sit, stand and pass through Paternoster Square in the City of London financial district of London, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, during England's third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. The U.K. is under an indefinite national lockdown to curb the spread of the new variant, with nonessential shops, gyms and hairdressers closed, most people working from home and schools largely offering remote learning. (AP PhotoMatt Dunham)

British officials say they are confident that the vaccines that have been authorized for use against COVID-19 will be effective against the new strain identified in the country.

But Vallance said scientists are concerned that variants identified in Brazil and South Africa could be more resistant to vaccines, adding that more research needs to be done.

Britain has recorded 95,981 deaths among people who tested positive for the coronavirus, the highest confirmed total in Europe.

A person photographs their dog near St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London financial district of London, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, during England's third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. The U.K. is under an indefinite national lockdown to curb the spread of the new variant, with nonessential shops, gyms and hairdressers closed, most people working from home and schools largely offering remote learning. (AP PhotoMatt Dunham)

The U.K. is currently in a lockdown in an attempt to slow the latest surge of the coronavirus outbreak. Pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and many shops are closed, and people are required to stay largely at home.

The number of new infections has begun to fall, but deaths remain agonizingly high, averaging more than 1,000 a day, and the number of hospitalized patients is 80% higher than at the first peak of the pandemic in the spring.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has often been accused of giving overly optimistic predictions about relaxing coronavirus restrictions, sounded gloomy.

A person photographs their dog near St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London financial district of London, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, during England's third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. The U.K. is under an indefinite national lockdown to curb the spread of the new variant, with nonessential shops, gyms and hairdressers closed, most people working from home and schools largely offering remote learning. (AP PhotoMatt Dunham)

“We will have to live with coronavirus in one way or another for a long while to come," he said, adding that "it’s an open question” when measures could be eased.

“At this stage you’ve got to be very, very cautious indeed," he said.

Vallance agreed,

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of coronavirus pushes a child in a buggy past the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, in the City of London financial district of London, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, during England's third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. The U.K. is under an indefinite national lockdown to curb the spread of the new variant, with nonessential shops, gyms and hairdressers closed, most people working from home and schools largely offering remote learning. (AP PhotoMatt Dunham)

“I don’t think this virus is going anywhere," he said. “It’s going to be around, probably, forever.”

Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at:

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak