Coronavirus UK: Kent Covid variant ‘is up to TWICE as deadly as older versions’

The Kent coronavirus variant is more deadly than original strains of the virus, another study has claimed.

Researchers analysed the lethality of the highly transmissible strain which is now the dominant type circulating in the UK and found it was worse than earlier variants.

Data from around 55,000 Brits revealed the variant, known as B117, likely increased the risk of death after infection by 64 per cent and potentially as much as doubled it.

Experts said this would equate to the virus killing around 0.41 per cent of everyone it infected in the general public — or one in 250 people.

For comparison, the original Covid strain had a lethality rate of around 0.25 per cent, British experts concluded.

The research, carried out by academics at the universities of Exeter, Bristol, Warwick and Lancaster, was published in the British Medical Journal

Despite the finding being worrying for the UK, which is dominated by the variant, scientists are certain that the current vaccines will work just as intended against the strain. 

The study comes after No10’s top scientific advisers spooked the nation in January when they warned the variant, which first emerged in Kent in September, was up to 30 per cent deadlier than older versions. 

Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street press conference in January that early hospital data suggested the variant could increase the risk of death for a man his 60s from 1 per cent to 1.3 per cent.

But confusion mounted following the claims, with a senior Public Health England boss playing down the fears and insisted it was not ‘absolutely clear’ if it was any deadlier.

SAGE then published the papers they used to make their estimate, which showed estimates of the death risk varied wildly.

Now, a detailed study has suggested that the risk of death increases by 64 per cent and potentially as much as 100 per cent.

A 64 per cent increase in risk does not mean that 64 per cent of people die, but that the much smaller relative risk rises by that much. For example, a group with a one per cent risk of death would then have a 1.64 per cent risk.

The researchers looked specifically at members of the public, who have a much lower death rate than care home residents and people already in hospital. 

Author of the study Dr Robert Challen, a mathematician from the University of Exeter said: ‘In the community, death from Covid-19 is still a rare event, but the B117 variant raises the risk.

‘Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B117 a threat that should be taken seriously.’

Researchers looked at death rates among people infected with the new variant and those infected with other strains.

The Kent variant dates back to September 2020, and was responsible for most of the second wave, while older variants from Wuhan and Spain caused the first wave. 

The study found that the Kent variant led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients – compared to 141 among the same number of similar patients who had the previous strains. 

Because of this increased risk of death and the fact that the variant infects people faster, those who might have been considered relatively low risk before were at higher risk now.

This chimes with official Government guidance, which saw an extra 1.7million people added to the shielding list and advised to stay at home during the vaccine rollout.   

In January a paper from SAGE advisers NERVTAG (New And Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) said there was a ‘realistic possibility’ that the variant was associated with an increased risk of death.

But scientists warned there was a lot of uncertainty around the data.

Mutations of the virus have raised concerns about whether vaccines would be effective against the new strains, including the now-dominant Kent strain.

But research suggests the Pfizer jab is just as effective against the Kent variant of coronavirus as it was against the original pandemic strain, while other data indicates the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has a similar efficacy against the variant.

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