UPDATES WITH MORE COMMENTS FROM PM, ADDS REMARKS BY GOVERNMENT’S CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER, DAILY DATA
By Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) – The British prime minister warned on Friday that the COVID-19 variant found in the UK could be more deadly than the original virus.
“In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the south east, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Boris Johnson said at a news conference.
“It’s largely the impact of this new variant that means the National Health Service is under such intense pressure.”
Health officials have already said that the new virus is over 70% more transmissible.
“All current evidence continues to show that the current vaccines remain effective against the old coronavirus variant and this new one,” Johnson said.
The UK has given over 5 million doses of vaccine as of Friday.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser who spoke alongside Johnson, said COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy against variants from countries such as South Africa and Brazil was less certain.
“We are more concerned that they have certain features that might be less susceptible to vaccines,” he said.
Johnson continued: "We really can’t begin to consider unlocking until we’re confident that the vaccination program is working, until we’re confident that we don’t have new variants or changes in our understanding of the virus.”
“I think the most important thing is we’ve got to be in a position where the rate of infection of the virus is not still so high, and it’s very high right now,” he said.
“So, for unlocking just to lead to another big rebound, I think that would be the wrong thing, the wrong way, to approach this.”
Government data on Friday showed that there were 40,261 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the UK over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 3.58 million. Another 1,401 deaths brought the death total to 95,981.