LONDON | Confirming the worst fears, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday that the variant of the new coronavirus detected in his country and already present in about sixty others seemed to be not only more contagious, but also more deadly.
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This variant, which is transmitted 30 to 70% more easily, is believed to be responsible for the severity of the second wave of COVID-19 currently hitting the United Kingdom.
“It also now appears that there is evidence that the new variant, the variant which was first identified in London, and the South East, may be linked to a higher degree of mortality,” said Boris Johnson at a press conference in Downing Street.
For men in their 60s, the risk of mortality reaches 13 to 14 in 1,000 with the new variant, against 10 in 1,000 with the previous form of the virus, compared the government’s scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.
“I want to stress that there is a lot of uncertainty around these figures”, qualified Mr. Vallance, but there is a “concern that there has been an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility ”.
The WHO said it had not yet taken note of the new British elements and has not yet found that this variant was more deadly.
“We do not see so far (…) that the disease is more deadly. What we are seeing is that if more people are infected, more people will get very sick, and if more people get very sick, more people will die, ”the health emergency director said on Friday. at the World Health Organization, Michael Ryan during a press briefing.
“The increased incidence leads to higher mortality,” he added.
Studies are underway around the world to determine the reasons for the greater contagiousness of the British variant.
Other variants, including one initially detected in South Africa, are also worrying the international community. “They have certain characteristics that make them less sensitive to vaccines” and are “of more concern” than the British variant, said Mr. Vallance.
Hospitals under pressure
The most bereaved country in Europe by the pandemic with nearly 96,000 deaths (+ 1401 in 24 hours), the United Kingdom has reconfigured itself for the third time to try to stem a new wave of the epidemic.
A mass vaccination campaign was launched, and 5.4 million people received a first dose of vaccine, including 400,000 in 24 hours, a record.
The two vaccines used in the UK, that of AstraZeneca / Oxford and that of Pfizer / BioNTech, remain effective against the British variant, said Boris Johnson.
The effects of containment appear to be being felt as the number of cases decreases and the rate of reproduction of the virus – the R rate – is also declining.
Scientists advising the government put the rate between 0.8 and 1. Last week, it was between 1.2 and 1.3.
According to the National Statistics Office, ONS, one in 55 people in England had COVID-19 between January 10 and 16, down from the estimate of one in 50 people infected between December 27 and January 2.
Hospitals are under pressure, however, with 38,562 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, a figure 78% higher than during the first peak in April, said Boris Johnson.
In light of these elements, the government launched a new campaign on Friday evening to implore the British to stay at home.
Playing on a sensitive chord, this campaign shows caregivers on the front line facing the virus and patients stricken by the disease. “Can you look them in the eye and tell them that you are helping them by staying at home?” Asks the ad, which will air on TV, radio and social media.
The government has also tightened sanctions against containment violators. Police disrupted a wedding of some 400 guests at a school in London on Thursday evening, fining participants.