UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his health advisers claimed that Britain’s ‘super-covid’ variant may be between 30 and 40 percent more deadly than older forms of the virus – but gave no proof for his alarming warning.
‘There is no solid data in my institution or any published in the US as of yet that I am aware to support differential outcomes here, but the case load [of variants] is much, much higher in the UK, so, statistically, they would have a better chance of seeing that [about] any of the new strains than we could right now,’ Dr Dan Jones, an Ohio State University Medical Center pathologist who discovered two homegrown US variants (including one virtually identical to the UK’s), told DailyMail.com
The variant is now in at least 60 countries, including the US, where it has been detected in at least 22 states. At least 159 cases have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state health authorities.
‘CDC has reached out to public health agencies in the United Kingdom to learn more about the risk of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 and continues to closely monitor the situation. CDC has not yet seen the data nor had an opportunity to speak with colleagues in the United Kingdom. CDC will continue to communicate updates as new information about this variant becomes available,’ CDC spokesperson Jason McDonald told DailyMail.com in an emailed statement.
It comes as President Biden warned that US deaths are set to climb far higher: ‘A lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. We’re 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000,’ he said while signing additional executive orders for economic relief on Friday.
Scientists, including Dr Anthony Fauci, widely believe the variant, known as B117, is more infectious, but the consensus of the global scientific community thus far has been that while it is about twice as infectious, it is not more deadly.
‘The one in the UK has about twice as much transmissibility as the wild-type original one…they say, correctly, that on a one-to-one basis, the mutation doesn’t seem to make the virus more virulent, or [give it] a greater chance of making you seriously ill or killing you,’ Dr Fauci said during a Thursday press briefing.
Explaining the risk change out loud without presenting data to prove the terrifying development after it was leaked to a UK reporter before the briefing, chief UK scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that hospital data had suggested the variant could increase the risk of death for a man his 60s from one percent to 1.3 percent, but he admitted ‘the evidence is not yet strong’.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a highly politicized issue in both the US and the UK. Johnson has been widely panned as Britons grow frustrated with the country’s strictest round of lockdowns yet, implemented by the prime minister on January 6 in an effort to fuel the rapid spread of coronavirus there, thought to be driven by the B117 variant.
Cases and the rate of transmission have fallen considerably in the UK in recent weeks, provoking more fury and frustration from locked down citizens and businesses. Johnson reiterated on Friday that it is ‘too early’ to lift restrictions.
Dr Fauci said Friday that there were early signs that the most recent surge in US coronavirus cases might be ‘plateauing’ but said the situation could easily shift. The CDC predicted that the UK variant could become dominant in the US by March, which might trigger an explosion of cases.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his health advisers claimed the the UK’s ‘super-covid’ variant may be between 30 and 40 percent more deadly than older forms of the virus – but gave no proof for his alarming warning (left). The UK health ministry’s Friday warning contradicts what top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said less than 24 hours earlier (right)
Dr Fauci admitted that the US has made a lackluster effort to detect coronavirus variants, including the one from the UK as well as those that emerged in South Africa and Brazil, which he called ‘more concerning’ – implying the US may already have more cases of B117 or other variants than known.
A day after President Trump lifted travel restrictions on several countries, including the UK, President Biden reinstated them. The US and UK now both require all incoming international travelers to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, but some officials, like New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio have called for stricter bans to prevent the importation of more infectious variants.
But a Harvard University expert says the UK’s findings are highly preliminary, based on a small sample of data and that the US need not follow the UK’s lead and lock down further in light of the Johnson’s comments.
‘It’s too soon to say we need stricter lockdowns in the US,’ said Harvard health policy researcher Dr Tom Tsai.
‘We’re showing that the lockdown in the UK in its current state is working. We can’t knee jerk to everything, otherwise we’ll be chasing our tail. It’s like football We can call individual plays and audibles but we need a game plan. Yes you may need to call the audible, but the game plan is still the same. It’s Important to not throw the playbook out.’
‘When we look at data in terms of those who have tested positive, so anyone who has tested positive, there is evidence of an increased risk for those who have the new variant compared to the old virus,’ said Sir Vallance.
‘This evidence is not yet strong – it’s based on a series of different bits of information coming together to support that…but stressing these data are currently still uncertain…but it looks like it is,’ he said of signs that the mortality rate is increased.
Typically, deaths per hospitalizations are higher than deaths per cases, and it’s unclear why the ratio of one would change while the other ratio remained the same.
Dr Fauci noted on Friday that although the UK variant itself does not appear to do anything more harmful to human bodies, its arrival and proliferation could lead to more deaths.
‘With more transmissibility, you’re going to get more cases, and when you get more cases you get more hospitalizations, and with more hospitalizations you get more deaths,’ he cautioned.
That could explain what the UK is seeing as well, on infectious disease specialist told DailyMail.com.
‘I do think it’s possible to reconcile these two statements (Fauci’s and Johnson’s) depending on how you define these terms,’ said DrStuart Ray, Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine and infectious diseases, said in an email.
‘In the most simplistic sense, I don’t think we have enough evidence that if a person is infected with the b 1117 variant that was recognized in the UK that that variant is more deadly in a person who is infected so I don’t think we’ve seen evidence it’s more deadly on a per case basis
‘The way to reconcile those two statements could be that if you’re looking at the population, there could be a significant increase in the number of deaths…If you infect more people than more people would die.’
Whether or not the new variant itself is more deadly than other variants, the number of people dying each day in the UK has certainly surged since B117 was deemed a ‘variant of concern’ in December.
The variant now accounts for at lest 61 percent of UK cases. An average of about 60 people were dying each day there in December. The UK is now seeing an average of more than 1,200 daily deaths – up 9.5 percent compared to last week.
‘Super-covid’ from the UK was first detected in the US on December 29 in Colorado. Cases quickly cropped up in 21 other states, and it’s suspected that the highly contagious variant is much more prevalent than documented.
In the US, cases ticked up considerably following the holidays but have leveled off. The US is now seeing about 180,000 cases a day.
Worrying strains around the world: Since the Covid pandemic began there have been at least six new stains which appear more infectious and have mutations that open the door to vaccine resistance
Deaths, however have continued to climb. Wednesday saw that second highest 24-hour death toll in the US since the pandemic began, with 4,229 fatalities. Just shy of another 4,000 deaths were recorded on Thursday.
Whether the UK variant has anything to do with the trajectory of cases or deaths in the US is currently impossible to determine for two reasons: its arrival coincides with the expected post-holiday surge, driven by domestic travel and gatherings, and the testing the US is doing for new variants is sparse, to put it generously.
The UK’s Sir Patrick explained that the 30 percent increase in the risk of death he linked to B117 does not mean 30 percent of people will die, but is a relative increase.
Scientists working on the UK government’s coronavirus advisory board presented a range of different possible mortality rates for the new variants.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and at Imperial College London found the new variant was between 29 and 36 percent more fatal, while University of Exeter scientists estimated B117 make COVID-19 a shocking 91 percent more fatal, and still other scientists found it made no difference for mortality risks at all.
So far, most of the published research on B117 and other variants has been based on how it responds to antibodies in the lab, and most of that has been only published on pre-print hubs, and is not yet peer-reviewed.
The behavior of variants is ‘a new phenomenon we’re seeing in pre-print journals’ said Dr Fauci on Thursday.
He added that the UK variant might have a ‘very minimal effect’ on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines but vaccines will still be ‘well above the line of not being effective.’
The South African variant, he said, might have a more significant effect on how well vaccines work, but it is unlikely to render them useless.
‘It is all the more reason why we need to vaccinate as many people as possible – as long as the virus is out there replicating, viruses don’t mutate unless the replicate, and if you suppress this you might actually suppress that [opportunity for mutations],’ Dr Fauci said.
So far, neither the South African nor Brazilian variants that do worry Dr Fauci appear to be any deadlier than older forms either.
But they may be able to go undetected by antibodies for longer, giving them more opportunity to replicate. A higher viral load could theoretically overwhelm the body more quickly and totally, but there’s not clear evidence that that this is the case.
Despite the domination of the highly infectious B117 variant in the UK, the number of people each covid-positive infects in turn is falling
The R number, which describes this rate of transmission, is below 1.0 in the UK for the first time since early December, officials said Friday.