Kent Covid Variant No More Severe, Studies Show

Two new studies have shown that the “Kent” Covid variant – which Boris Johnson previously said “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality” – does not cause more severe disease, despite being more transmissible. The Financial Times has the story.

The highly contagious B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which originated in Kent and now dominates Covid transmissions across Europe and North America, does not cause more severe disease, according to two new studies. 

The research, published on Monday night, appeared to contradict earlier conclusions that B.1.1.7 infection led to more serious symptoms and was about 60% more lethal than previous variants of the virus.

The new studies used different methods. One team compared illness severity in patients infected with B.1.1.7 and other variants at two London hospitals – University College London Hospital and North Middlesex Hospital. The other combined data collected by the UK’s Zoe Covid Symptom Study mobile app with surveillance records from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium and Public Health England.

Both studies confirmed previous findings that B.1.1.7 is at least 35% more transmissible. But, once the data were fully corrected for demographic and epidemiological factors, neither study found an association between the variant and more severe disease symptoms.

Dr Eleni Nastouli, the lead author of the UCL study which has been published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, said the study helped researchers properly analyse the severity of the variant.

One of the real strengths of our study is that it ran at the same time that B.1.1.7 was emerging and spreading throughout London and the south of England.

Analysing the variant before the peak of hospital admissions and any associated strains on the health service gave us a crucial window of time to gain vital insights into how B.1.1.7 differs in severity or death in hospitalised patients from the strain of the first wave.

After Boris Johnson said in a January news briefing that “the new variant… may be associated with a higher degree of mortality”, MPs accused the Government of “scaremongering” about the virus without strong supporting evidence – evidence which even Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance said was “weak”.

The Covid Recovery Group of Tory backbenchers and business chiefs are growing increasingly alarmed at suggestions lockdown could stretch well into summer despite Britain’s vaccination programme  

Tory backbencher Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline some of the scientific warnings were reminiscent of Project Fear and every time there was hope of easing lockdown there was “a new twist”.

The FT‘s report is worth reading in full.

ITV News has some more details on these new studies.

One observational study of patients in London hospitals suggested the variant is not associated with more severe illness and death, but appears to lead to higher viral load.

A separate observational study using data logged by 37,000 UK users of a self-reporting coronavirus symptom app found no evidence the variant altered symptoms or likelihood of experiencing long Covid.

Authors of both studies acknowledged the findings differ from some other studies exploring the severity of the variant, and called for more research.

Also worth reading in full.

Stop Press: We have published other reports on the severity of the B.1.1.7 variant in the past, for example here, here and here.

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