Recent figures also suggest that women are increasingly at risk compared to the original coronavirus strain in the first wave.
The highly contagious variant of the new coronavirus, which is prevalent in the UK, can be up to 70 per cent more deadly than previous strains, according to a report by government scientific advisers.
The findings from NERVTAG, published Friday on the government’s website, underscored concerns about how mutations could change the characteristics of SARS-CoV2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – and change the course of the pandemic.
NERVTAG’s report was based on a dozen studies that found the so-called Kent variant, named after the county where it was first identified, probably 30 to 70 percent more deadly than other versions of the new coronavirus in circulation.
These studies compared hospitalization and deaths among individuals infected with the B.1.1.7 variant and those infected with other strains.
NERVTAG includes experts from universities and government agencies across the UK.
The results of the group’s analysis are worrying, said David Strain, a clinical associate professor at the University of Exeter Medical School and the clinical director of COVID-19 at Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.
“The higher transferability means that people who previously had a low risk of catching COVID (especially younger fitter females) now catch it and end up in the hospital,” Strain said.
“This is highlighted by the latest hospitalization figures, which now suggest a nearly 50:50 ratio between men and women compared to this being predominantly in men during the first wave.”
To date, the UK has registered more than four million cases of COVID-19. The virus has killed more than 117,000 people nationwide, marking one of the world’s worst deaths.
B.1.1.7 fans outward
Experts have previously said that the B.1.1.7 strain could be between 30 and 70 percent more contagious than other varieties.
After first being discovered in September, it quickly became the dominant variant in the UK.
It is believed to have been the spark for a rapid rise in the country’s COVID-19 caseload in recent months, which sent the death toll spiraling and forcing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to enforce a third national lockdown on 4 January.
The variant has also spread to other parts of the world and rapidly.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 83 countries have reported cases of the strain. It has been discovered on every continent on Earth except Antarctica.
Research suggests that the two COVID-19 vaccines in use in the UK – developed by Pfizer / BioNTech and AstraZeneca – provide some protection against B.1.1.7.
But the spread of the variant has nevertheless added to fears of new mutations of the new coronavirus.
The concern has been reinforced by two other highly contagious strains in circulation – the so-called Brazilian and South African varieties, known by researchers as 20I / 501Y.V2 or B.1.351 and P.1, respectively.
These variants have the E484K mutation, which occurs on the spike protein of the virus. The mutation is thought to help the virus avoid antibodies and slip past the body’s immune system. Researchers have warned that it may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.
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