Britain falls behind Europe on Covid-19 as surge sparks call for probe into Delta Plus mutation

To date, Britain has recorded almost 140,000 Covid-19-related fatalities. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Surging cases in the UK have left the country behind the rest of Europe with former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb calling for "urgent research" into a mutation of the Delta variant known as Delta Plus.

Britain reported 45,140 new cases on Sunday (Oct 17), the highest daily jump since mid-July, around when Prime Minister Boris Johnson authorised the removal of most Covid-19-related restrictions in what was dubbed "Freedom Day".

Weekly deaths from the virus topped 800 for each of the past six weeks, higher than in other major western European nations, according to Bloomberg's tracker.

The UK also has lagged in rolling out the vaccines to adolescents amid concerns that some side effects undermined the net benefit of the shots given children are less likely to become seriously ill.

The delay meant most older children weren't offered a vaccine until the school year had started. Prevalence of Covid-19 is growing among those aged 17 and younger, the latest React-1 study led by Imperial College London found last week.

The reproduction rate in that age group was 1.18, meaning that on average every 10 young people infected are passing it on to about 12 others.

The Delta plus strain Dr Gottlieb highlighted includes the K417N mutation, which has also stoked concern because that's also harboured by the Beta variant that's associated with an increased risk of reinfection.

"We need urgent research to figure out if this Delta Plus is more transmissible, has partial immune evasion," Dr Gottlieb said in a tweet on Sunday. "There's no clear indication that it's considerably more transmissible, but we should work to more quickly characterise these and other new variants. We have the tools."

British researchers said in late June that there is no evidence yet to suggest the additional mutation is more worrisome.

A German paper earlier this month found while both Delta and Delta Plus infect lung cells more efficiently than the original coronavirus strain, Delta Plus does not appear to be significantly more dangerous than Delta.

In England, the percentage of people testing positive continued to increase in the week ending Oct 9, with an estimated 890,000 people having Covid-19, or about 1 in 60, according to the Office for National Statistics.

To date, Britain has recorded almost 140,000 Covid-19-related fatalities.

"At the moment the UK has a higher level of Covid-19 than most other comparable countries, this is seen not just in positive tests but in hospital admissions and deaths," Dr Jim Naismith, a professor at the University of Oxford, wrote in a statement published by the Science Media Centre on Oct 15. Each death "represents a tragedy", he said.

Dr Gottlieb, who serves on Pfizer's board of directors, led the FDA from 2017 to 2019. He has been promoting his new book, Uncontrolled Spread: Why Covid-19 Crushed Us And How We Can Defeat The Next Pandemic.

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