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Boris Johnson Says B.1.1.7 UK Coronavirus Strain May Be More Deadly, Researchers Say ‘Data Not Yet Strong’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK coronavirus strain of the SARS-CoV-2 Novel Coronavirus may be more lethal than the original at a press conference held on Friday. 

“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 — the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast (of England) — may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” said Johnson.

The UK variant of the original Novel Coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan City, China, in late 2019, is called B.1.1.7. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website’s most recent update of January 15: “This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants… currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.”

The SARS-CoV-2 Novel Coronavirus causes the severe respiratory and immune function disease the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-centric World Health Organization (WHO) coined as “Coronavirus Disease 2019” (COVID-19) in early 2020. 

Some refer to the virus as the “CCP Virus” because Beijing and the WHO took steps to cover up the existence of the pandemic in its earliest phases, costing the world crucial weeks in the beginning stages of the pandemic when the virus could have otherwise been easily contained as it was in Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC). 

As of today, the ROC, a small island off the coast of Mainland China with a history of vehemently rejecting the CCP, has had 887 cases and 7 deaths in a population of almost 24 million people since the pandemic began, resulting from its quick, independent identification of and response to the virus. The ROC has always been excluded from the WHO due to the United Nations Organization’s close ties to Beijing. 

The B.1.1.7 mutation was first discovered in September of 2020 and has since become the predominant strain of the virus in the UK. A report released by the CDC on Friday says the new strain is “more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants” and anticipates the UK strain will become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March, according to CDC modeling. 

A giant snowball shaped as a coronavirus is seen on Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath on January 24, 2021, in London, United Kingdom. Parts of the country saw snow and icy conditions as arctic air caused temperatures to drop. (Image: by Hollie Adams / Getty Images)

The CDC website and report also notes two other prevailing mutations of the Novel Coronavirus, the “1.351” mutation from South Africa, which “shares some mutations with the variant detected in the UK” and a “P.1” mutation from Brazil that was detected in Brazillian travelers to Japan, which contains “a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies.”

Neither the South African nor the Brazillian strains have been detected in the U.S., according to the CDC. 

The CDC report describes both variants as carrying a “constellation of genetic mutations, including in the S protein receptor-binding domain, which is essential for binding to the host cell angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE-2) receptor to facilitate virus entry.”

When a virus enters the human body, it is quickly cleared by the human immune system. In order for a virus to survive and cause a disease, it must bind to and enter human cells, turning the human body’s cells into factories for the replication of the virus and virus-like particles. Once a cell is infected, it can only be destroyed by the immune system. 

According to a 2004 study published in the National Library of Medicine, which focused on finding the path the original 2003 SARS pandemic took to root in the body, ACE-2 receptors are “abundantly present in humans in the epithelia of the lung and small intestine.”

The CDC’s report also found that the new variants may also “affect the performance” of the widely used Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, which uses up to 40 cycles to find increasingly smaller portions of SARS-CoV-2 RNA viral load in the nose or throat to determine if you have “tested positive” for COVID-19. Concerns with this testing methodology abound due to both false positives and “positive” tests not equating to patients actually suffering from COVID-19. 

According to a report by the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG), the B.1.1.7 mutation only presents a “realistic possibility” that the mutation is “associated with an increased risk of death compared to infection with non-VOC (Variant of Concern) [mutation] viruses.” The study found an approximate 30 percent increase in deaths between patients who tested positive for the mutation versus the original virus. However: “It should be noted that the absolute risk of death per infection remains low,” states the report.

The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance told the BCC the data was not yet strong. He said: “I want to stress that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility.”

One of the limitations the report noted is only an 8 percent subset of all COVID-19 deaths during the study period were analyzed in the findings. It also pointed out: “Currently, we do not have evidence of an increased risk of hospitalisation in individuals with VOC B1.1.7…” However, researchers issued the caveat that “data are limited due to lags in the availability of hospitalisation data.”

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  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.

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