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UK says new variant may be linked to higher death rates

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference.Leon Neal/Photographer: Leon Neal/Getty Im

BLOOMBERG -- The U.K.’s new more contagious strain of coronavirus may be linked to higher mortality, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Speaking at a news conference in London, he said new evidence had led the government to reassess its view that the new variant was not more dangerous.

“In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears there is some evidence that the new variant” may be “associated with a higher degree of mortality,” the premier warned, flanked by his top medical advisers.

The premier said he was more focused on trying to enforce compliance and that he would not consider relaxing rules for now until there was strong evidence that infections were down. His tone of caution came as the latest government data suggested that the virus was no longer spreading exponentially. People contracting the disease in London are now one in 35.

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The official estimate of the “R rate” -- which measures how many people each infected person passes the virus on to -- fell to between 0.8 and 1, the results released on Friday showed. When R is above 1 the virus spreads exponentially. Last week, the R rate was estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.3.

The government said the case rates remain “dangerously high” and urged the public to keep to lockdown rules.

Johnson’s government wants to begin lifting restrictions once it has vaccinated 15 million of the most vulnerable people and their carers. But the fast-spreading variant could mean lockdown measures are needed into the summer.