Europe, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

UK reports highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths since March

UK officials say they are keeping eye on new strain of Delta variant, called AY.4.2, first identified in July 2021

Karim El-Bar   | 19.10.2021
UK reports highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths since March

LONDON

The UK recorded 233 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest daily increase since March 9, 2021, when 231 people died.

The latest figures bring the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 138,852. Britain also recorded 43,738 new cases, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to over 8.5 million.

UK officials also said on Tuesday that they are keeping an eye on a new strain of the Delta variant, called AY.4.2, which was first identified in July 2021.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: "It's something we're keeping a very close eye on. As you would expect we're monitoring it closely and won't hesitate to take action if necessary."

Prof. Francois Balloux, director of University College London's Genetics Institute, said: "It is potentially a marginally more infectious strain.”

"It's nothing compared with what we saw with Alpha and Delta, which were something like 50 to 60 percent more transmissible. So, we are talking about something quite subtle here and that is currently under investigation,” he said.

"It is likely to be up to 10 percent more transmissible. It's good that we are aware. It's excellent that we have the facilities and infrastructure in place to see anything that might be a bit suspicious.

"At this stage I would say wait and see, don't panic. It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something absolutely disastrous like we saw previously."

Balloux added that AY.4.2 “is likely to be elevated to the rank of ‘Variant under Investigation’.”


- UK must be ‘cautious’

Prof. Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) from Imperial College London, told the BBC that the UK must be “cautious” as its case numbers rise and immunity wanes.

"Nobody likes having their freedoms curtailed by measures but it's prudent to be cautious in everyday interactions - certainly wearing masks helps that, it reminds people that we're not completely out of the woods yet,” Ferguson said.

He went on to explain why the UK had higher case numbers than the rest of Europe.

"First of all, we have lower functional immunity in our population than most other Western European countries and that's for two reasons,” he said.

"Partly, we were very successful in getting vaccination rolled out early and we know that gradually immunity wanes over time after you've had that second dose, so how early we were means we are a bit more vulnerable.


"Second, we relied more on the AstraZeneca vaccine and, while that protects very well against very severe outcomes of Covid, it protects slightly less well than Pfizer against infection and transmission, particularly in the face of the Delta variant.

"And finally, we just sit behind a few other countries, not dramatically, but we're no longer in the top rank of European countries in terms of overall vaccination coverage, particularly vaccinating teenagers. Overall coverage rates here are considerably lower, for instance, than in Spain, Portugal and Denmark." 


British government data on Tuesday showed that up to and including Oct. 18 2021, over 49.4 million first doses of vaccine have been administered, or 86% of people aged over 12, and over 45.4 million second doses of vaccine have been administered, or 78.9% of people aged over 12.

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