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Boris Johnson says UK COVID-19 variant may be more deadly

Britain's chief scientific adviser stressed that more research is needed and they still believe the approved COVID-19 vaccines will work on the U.K. variant.

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom shows "some evidence" that it could be more deadly than the original strain of the virus, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"We have 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 identified in London and the South East – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality," Johnson said Friday in a press briefing.

However, he added that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, which are approved for use across the U.K., have continued to be effective against the variant.

Britain's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and more research is needed. He also said British officials are increasingly confident that the vaccines that have been authorized will be effective against the new strain identified in Britain. 

But Vallance said scientists are concerned that variants identified in Brazil and South Africa could be more resistant to vaccines.

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For most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The United States has more than 24 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Friday, the U.S. had more than 411,000 deaths from the virus.

Worldwide, there are more than 97 million confirmed cases with more than 2 million deaths.

The prime minister said there could be further restrictions in the U.K. "We may need to go further to protect our borders," Johnson said.

"We will have to live with coronavirus in one way or another for a long while to come," he said, adding that "it’s an open question" when measures could be eased.

"At this stage you’ve got to be very, very cautious indeed," he said.

The chief scientific adviser agreed. "I don’t think this virus is going anywhere," Vallance said. "It's going to be around, probably, forever."

The Associated Press contributed.