British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently warned that the fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 increases the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with previous variants.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggest that the risk of dying is around 35% higher for people who are infected with the new variant. That means that for men aged 70–84, the number who are likely to die from COVID-19 increases from roughly 5% for those who test positive for the older variant, to more than 6% for those confirmed to be infected with B.1.1.7. For those who are 85 and above, the risk of dying increases from about 17% to nearly 22%. Still, the government scientists’ assessment that the variant was “likely” to be linked to a higher risk of death still only signalled 55 to 75 percent confidence in the finding, reports show.
But what makes the variant more lethal is unclear. Some evidence suggests that higher viral loads in people infected with the variant make the virus more contagious and render certain treatments ineffective.
But many scientists say they can’t be yet certain whether the variant is more deadly or is just reaching the vulnerable spreading faster because the current studies are limited. They also suggested that B.1.1.7 could contribute to an increase in deaths because of its fast spread, which would overwhelm hospitals and affect the quality of care.