The Kent variant of coronavirus is likely to be more deadly, government scientists have confirmed.
In an update published on the government’s website, scientists from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said “it is likely” the strain is “associated with an increased risk or hospitalisation and death”.
The Kent variant – known as SARS-CoV-2 variant B117 – was originally detected last September and has since spread to more than 50 countries.
The latest government data on the variant was published last Friday, and is based on previous studies that found it could be 70% more infectious than the UK’s previous dominant strain.
Last month, Boris Johnson said there is “some evidence” the Kent variant could be 30% deadlier than the original virus.
'Sweep the world'
It is already the UK’s dominant strain, but last week a leading scientist said it is going to “sweep the world”.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (Cog-UK) Consortium, the national genetic surveillance programme, said the Kent strain will become the world’s most dominant.
“It’s going to sweep the world, in all probability”, she told the BBC’s Newscast podcast.
Watch: 'Surge testing' in Manchester after mutation of Kent variant detected
The new variant initially led to London and parts of southern and eastern England being rushed into Tier 4 restrictions prior to Christmas, before stricter measures were introduced throughout the UK.
Prof Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said transmissibility was likely to cause scientists difficulties for years to come.
“Once we get on top of it [COVID-19] or it mutates itself out of being virulent – causing disease – then we can stop worrying about it,” she said.
“But I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view.”
A study has suggested that people infected with the Kent variant are less likely to report a loss of taste and smell.
In New Zealand, the city of Auckland has been placed into a three-day lockdown after three new cases of coronavirus were discovered, two of which were the Kent variant.
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's lockdown