THE KENT Covid variant is up to twice as deadly compared with the original strain, scientists have warned.
The strain is the most dominant in Britain and has reached all corners of the globe.
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The Kent strain of the virus is more lethal than the original one, causing twice as many deaths
Researchers at Universities of Exeter and Bristol compared the mortality rates of the people infected with the Kent variant – which has slightly different symptoms – and those infected with other strains.
Of 54,906 patients with the Kent strain, 227 died (0.413 per cent) compared with 141 (0.25 per cent) among those with previous strains – a 61 per cent difference.
However, Leon Danon, senior author of the study from the University of Bristol, told The Sun: “We think that the variant is around 64 per cent more deadly, but that figure could be as low as 32 per cent or as high as 100 per cent (much less likely).
“We don’t have enough information yet to be any more certain.”
The study participants were matched closely to make sure neither group had more adults at high risk of severe Covid, which would skew the results.
With the new variant, officially called B.1.1.7, already detected in more than 50 countries worldwide, the findings paint a conerning picture of how the coronavirus has evolved.
Dr Robert Challen, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter, said: “In the community, death from Covid-19 is still a rare event, but the B.1.1.7 variant raises the risk.
“Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously.”
The Kent variant is also known to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.
The study published today shows because it can spread more easily, more people who would have previously been considered at low risk of Covid were hospitalised with the newer variant.
The reasons why are not clear, but scientists have suspected the virus is more able to enter cells, therefore infecting more people that previously may have been low-risk.
Sage – the UK Government’s scientific advisory group – has previously warned the Kent variant is more deadly.
Types of new Covid variants and their mutations
The most common symptoms of the Kent strain
NERVTAG, a sub-group of Sage, initially said there was a “realistic possibility” that the variant was not only more contagious but also more lethal.
But papers published in February said the group believed it was “likely” that the strain caused more deaths and hospitalisations.
A study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested the risk of death was 58 per cent higher.
Meanwhile, Imperial College London estimated it to be 36 per cent higher, and Public Health England and University of Exeter suggested it was between 65 and 70 per cent higher.
The variation in the findings were expected because the Kent variant had only been around since September, and scientists were still gathering data on how many people had died of it.
Speaking of the validity of today’s findings, Dr Danon said: “We focussed our analysis on cases that occurred between November 2020 and January 2021, when both the old variants and the new variant were present in the UK.
Scientists are increasingly confident that the current vaccines being deployed work against the Kent variant. Pictured: Wendy Allinson receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine in Darlinghton, March 1Credit: Getty Images – Getty
“This meant we were able to maximise the number of ‘matches’ and reduce the impact of other biases. Subsequent analyses have confirmed our results.
“SARS-CoV-2 appears able to mutate quickly, and there is a real concern that other variants will arise with resistance to rapidly rolled out vaccines.
“Monitoring for new variants as they arise, measuring their characteristics and acting appropriately needs to be a key part of the public health response in the future.”
However, Dr Julian Tang, a virologist at University of Leicester, said he was “not very convinced by the results” due to the time period studied.
He said: “The coldest winter temperatures occurring in Jan/Feb can exacerbate all the comorbidities that predispose to more severe outcomes of Covid-19 – like chronic heart, lung, renal, neurological diseases – including diabetes, hypertension (stressing the heart).
“We really need to revisit this in Spring to account for the cold weather factor.”
He added that during the third lockdown, a lack of exercise, increased eating of junk food, and stress related to homeschooling and money could have all impacted somebody’s immune response to the virus.
Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health, University of Southampton, said the findings “underpin” what has already been found by other teams.
He said it “illustrates the importance of keeping case numbers suppressed” – because the Kent variant would have partly contributed to the rise in deaths in the past few months and the “more Covid-19 there is, the more chance there is of a new variant of concern emerging”.
The good news is scientists are increasingly confident that the current vaccines being deployed – Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca – work against the Kent variant.
Ellen Brooks-Pollock from the University of Bristol expanded: “It was fortunate the mutation happened in a part of the genome covered by routine testing. Future mutations could arise and spread unchecked”.
Other variants of concern that are present in the UK include those from South Africa and Brazil.
The Brazilian variant has been shown to be more deadly in the city of Manaus, where it was first detected.
But scientists are unclear if this will also apply to other countries.
Similarly, research from South Africa has given a hint that the strain that emerged there kills more patients.