The British Prime Minister showered hopes of a rapid deconfinement of the country on Friday January 22, despite the success of the national vaccine campaign and infection levels which now seem to be stagnating. Among other bad news, Boris Johnson, surrounded by his two chief scientific advisers, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, at a press conference from Downing Street, also suggested that the “British” variant of the Coronavirus “Could be more deadly in addition to being more transmissible” than the initial strain.
Appeared for the first time in Kent (south-east of England) in autumn 2020, this variant (named B.1.1.7), now prevalent in England, “Is transmitted between 30% and 70% of times more easily than the main virus. When comparing people who test positive, there is evidence of a higher risk [de mourir] in those carrying the variant compared to those carrying the old one ”, said Patrick Vallance, who however showed extreme caution. The data is “Currently uncertain”, he insisted, “Some studies do not show any increase in the risk of lethality. More studies are needed ”.
Further studies needed
Information on the greater dangerousness of the variant, which is particularly anxiety-provoking, was transmitted to the government by the Nervtag, the committee of experts advising it on viruses. “For a person aged 60, the average risk of dying once infected with SARS-CoV-2 is 10 per 1000. With the British variant, it is between 13 and 14 per 1000”, explains Mr. Vallance. The British variant is now present in around sixty countries around the world. British scientists believe, however, that the vaccines currently deployed in the country (those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca) remain effective against him. However, they are worried about the possible resistance of two other variants, the South African and the Brazilian, detected on national soil. “They have certain characteristics that would make them less receptive to vaccines”, Mr. Vallance fears.
According to an updated Nervtag document, released Friday evening, three studies show greater lethality of the English variant. The risk of dying for people who test positive would be respectively 1.36 times higher according to Imperial College London, 1.35 times higher according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and even 1.91 times higher according to the University of Exeter.
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