The COVID mutation that has taken over most new cases in Lincolnshire is not only more infectious, but may also be more deadly, it has been revealed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is “some evidence” the new variant of COVID-19 which is more transmissible could have a “higher degree of mortality”.
However, he said all current evidence continued to show that vaccines remain effective.
Health bosses in Lincolnshire on Friday estimated 80-90% of new coronavirus cases were the new variant.
Boris Johnson told reporters that there were currently no plans to change lockdown rules saying “this is the right package of measures” and that it was down to people obeying the current lockdown and enforcement.
Mr Johnson was speaking during a press briefing on Friday where health bosses said 1 in 55 people now had coronavirus in England.
There are now more than 38,000 people in hospital nationally – 78% higher than the peak of the first wave.
Mr Johnson said: “We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, first identified in London and the south-east, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.
“It’s largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure.”
In response to questions over death spikes caused by the new variant he said: “Death numbers will continue to be high for a little while to come.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said there was already confidence the new virus spread more easily, but that it was unclear why that was.
He said there was no difference in terms of age range being affected.
Sir Vallance added the outcome for those in hospital with the new variant was the same, however, there was evidence “there’s increased risk for those who have the new variant, compared to the old virus”.
Early evidence suggests the difference shows 13-14 deaths per 1,000 infected as opposed to 10 in 1,000 for the original virus.
However, he added: “That evidence is not yet strong, it’s a series of different bits of information that come together to support that, and I want to put it into context as to what it might mean.
“But I’m stressing that these data are currently uncertain and we don’t have a very good estimate of the precise nature, or indeed, whether it is overall increase.”
He confirmed there was increasing evidence the new variant would be susceptible to the vaccines and studies of the Pfizer Biontech vaccine showed “very good neutralisation”.
“There’s increasing confidence, coupled with I think what is a very important clinical observation, which is that individuals who’ve been infected previously, and have generated antibodies, appear to be equally protected against original virus and new variant,” he added.
England’s Chief medical office Chris Whitty said there had been a “turning the corner” for the number of people catching the virus, adding it was coming down from an “exceptionally” high level.