Evidence that the mutant coronavirus variant that has emerged in the south of England may be more deadly and transmissible is a “serious turn for the worse,” said a senior scientist.
Data suggests that for a thousand people in this group infected with the old variant, approximately 10 people would die – while the new variant could be 13 or 14, with similar increases in death rates across age groups.
An article by the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (Nervtag) published on Friday said there was a “realistic possibility” that the variant is associated with an increased risk of death.
However, it was also emphasized that the “absolute risk of death per infection remains low”.
John Edmunds, professor at the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Nervtag, said, “If the death rate stays the same, an increase in transmissibility is worse than an increase in death because you are increasing Epidemic, and so more and more cases.
“Unfortunately, it looks like this virus could be both – certainly increased transmissibility compared to the previous strains we’ve dealt with, and it looks like it could unfortunately also increase deaths, so it really is a serious turn for the worse, unfortunately. “
Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that despite the uncertainty of the data, it is clear that the new strain is not more harmless.
He explained, “One of the possibilities was that this new variant would cause less mortality, it would be less virulent.
“And I think we can be absolutely certain that this is not the case.
“Whether or not there is a significant increase in mortality – the evidence we have is very solid, but it could still be wrong with different dates or changes with different datasets, but it is certainly not the case that it is one harmless virus. “
The experts also said that despite the data suggesting the mutated variant might be more deadly, there is no evidence that existing treatments like dexamethasone aren’t effective against it.
Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Oxford University and Chairman of Nervtag, said: “The basic principles of control remain exactly the same for this virus as for the old variants.
“There is no evidence that this new virus is escaping any of the treatments that have been shown to be effective or any of the vaccines.
“It just shows how important it is to keep reducing the number of infections that occur.”
Prof. Medley said it was “critical” to reduce the incidence of infection and that the new results don’t suggest anything needs to be done differently.
He added, “Then whether you want to make sure the incidence continues to drop by either increasing the lockdown or increasing the length of a lockdown, I think it is entirely up to the government to decide.”
“But it’s not that this new finding suggests we need to do something else entirely – we’re still facing the same problem with the NHS, with the same urgency.”