Top scientists say 'not clear' mutant Covid strain is more deadly after SAGE warning handed to Boris 'only 50% certain'

TOP scientists today said it is not "absolutely clear" the mutant Covid strain is more deadly after the warning handed to Boris Johnson is "only 50 per cent certain".

The PM said there is "evidence" more people are dying than before, but Public Health England's medical director said "it is too early to say".

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Dr Yvonne Doyle said more work was needed to determine whether it is accurate there is a higher mortality rate.

"There are several investigations going on at the moment. It is not absolutely clear that that will be the case. It is too early to say," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"There is some evidence, but it is very early evidence. It is small numbers of cases and it is far too early to say this will actually happen."

Last night scientists said the mutant strain of Covid is between 30 and 90 per cent more deadly than the original, but vaccines will still work.

Three separate groups of experts advising the Government have looked at the impact of the more contagious Kent variant on mortality.

But it comes as SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) reportedly warned that scientists are only 50 per cent certain the Kent mutant strain could be more deadly.

It is believed Mr Johnson was handed the information just hours before his grim press conference from No10 last night, the Daily Mail reports.

And today Professor Peter Horby, who chairs the Government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said that people needed to put the new data "in perspective".


He told BBC Breakfast: "Initial data didn't suggest that this was any more serious than the old virus but now the data has started to come in there are a number of streams of data that are coming in that suggest there might be a small increase in risk of death.

"There are some limitations in the data so we need to be cautious with the interpretations but it is important that people understand that we are looking at this and this may be true.

"If you look at it as a relative change like 30 or 40 per cent then it sounds really bad but a big change in a very small risk takes it from a very small number to a slightly bigger, but still very small number, so for most people the risk is very, very small."

Sir Patrick Vallance said the new dominant variant was "obviously of concern".

Researchers concluded the new strain is between 29 and 91 per cent more likely to kill infected Brits – with three different studies showing very different results.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said it could be 1.35 times more deadly, Imperial College London said it was between 1.36, or 1.29 (depending on the method used), and the University of Exeter found it may be 1.91 times more deadly.


The worrying research was only based on a few hundreds deaths, but scientists followed them through from infection through to death.

The PM told the press conference last night: "We've been informed today in addition to spreading more quickly, it appears there is some evidence the new variant may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."

He warned the infection rate was "forbiddingly high".

The new strain, which was first discovered in Kent, is already more easily transmitted than the older one too – meaning it is infecting more Brits.

It's being blamed for the huge increases in cases in the UK in the last month.

However, Mr Vallance said that 13 or 14 people per 1000 would die of the new strain, compared to around 10 of the old strain.

We are more concerned they have more features they might be less susceptible to vaccines.

There isn't much information about the South Africa and Brazil variants and their death rates yet, he explained.

But he added: "We are more concerned they have more features they might be less susceptible to vaccines.

"They are definitely of more concern and we need to keep looking at it and studying it."

Professor Neil Ferguson, who sits on NERVTAG, said yesterday: "It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty."

The research was consistent across different age groups, regions and ethnicities, he added.

However, he warned that only eight per cent of deaths contain information about which strain they had had.

It came as:

  • Boris warned "the death number will continue to be high – at least for a little while to come"
  • 40,261 new Covid cases were reported in the last 24 hours – and 1,401 deaths
  • There were the first signs that the pressure on the NHS is easing as number of Covid patients in hospital starts to fall
  • The R rate was officially below one again
  • Plans are being firmed up for the UK to start forcing people to quarantine in hotels when they come into the country

Sage documents released on Friday showed that scientists estimate that the novel variant is 56 per cent more transmissible than other strains.

The issue was discussed by NERVTAG, on Thursday and the group found that there was a “realistic possibility” the variant resulted in an increased risk of death.

However, scientists use the term “realistic possibility” when they are only 40 to 50 per cent confident something is true, NERVTAG documents reveal.

It came as Matt Hancock was recorded saying that the new South African strain may make Covid jabs 50 per cent less effective.

The Health Secretary said there was "evidence in the public domain" that suggests the new variant is more resistant to jabs, but cautioned that scientists are still carrying out tests.

The new variant is feared to have started with one person in Kent, and is now responsible for more and more cases across Britain.

Britain has seen record case numbers on a daily basis in the past month – despite the November lockdown, tougher tiers and then the new year shutdown.

Since the UK announced the discovery of the strain, it has been confirmed in small numbers in France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

The UK has a strong ability to investigate new mutations of the virus – known as genomic sequencing – which is unmatched by other countries.


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