British scientists are warning that the new U.K. variant (B.1.1.7) of COVID-19 is deadlier than the original strand.
According to new studies, experts have determined that the new strand is "likely… associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death" compared to the first strand of the coronavirus.
"The overall picture is one of something like a 40 to 60 percent increase in hospitalization risk, and risk of death," Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and scientific adviser with the British government, told The New York Times of their new findings.
The new variant first appeared in England in September and now makes up over 90 percent of cases in the country. Around 121,674 have died from COVID-19 in the U.K. since the onset of the pandemic, half of those since the new variant began to spread, per Gov.UK.
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"This has been quite catastrophic in terms of mortality," Ferguson added. "And that's a result of both the increased transmissibility, and the increased lethality."
There are currently no clear reasons for an elevated death rate with the new strand. However, scientists previously said that there is a "realistic possibility" that the new variant is more contagious.
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"I think these results are possibly genuine, although there are still several limitations and we need to understand what causes it," Muge Cevik, another scientific adviser and infectious disease expert said.
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"There are other explanations of this increased severity," she added, noting that it may "transmit disproportionately in settings with frailer people."
Experts believe that the new variant is at least 30 to 50 percent more infectious than the original.
It has since spread to at least 82 other countries, including the United States. American officials believe that the new strand could become the dominant source of infection here by March, the Times reported.
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