The new variant has already spread to at least 82 other countries, including the United States

By Claudia Harmata
February 15, 2021 11:59 AM
Credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty

British scientists are warning that the new U.K. variant (B.1.1.7) of COVID-19 is deadlier than the original strand.

According to new studies, experts have determined that the new strand is "likely... associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death" compared to the first strand of the coronavirus.

"The overall picture is one of something like a 40 to 60 percent increase in hospitalization risk, and risk of death," Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and scientific adviser with the British government, told The New York Times of their new findings.

The new variant first appeared in England in September and now makes up over 90 percent of cases in the country. Around 121,674 have died from COVID-19 in the U.K. since the onset of the pandemic, half of those since the new variant began to spread, per Gov.UK.

"This has been quite catastrophic in terms of mortality," Ferguson added. "And that's a result of both the increased transmissibility, and the increased lethality."

There are currently no clear reasons for an elevated death rate with the new strand. However, scientists previously said that there is a "realistic possibility" that the new variant is more contagious.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

"I think these results are possibly genuine, although there are still several limitations and we need to understand what causes it," Muge Cevik, another scientific adviser and infectious disease expert said.

"There are other explanations of this increased severity," she added, noting that it may "transmit disproportionately in settings with frailer people."

Experts believe that the new variant is at least 30 to 50 percent more infectious than the original.

It has since spread to at least 82 other countries, including the United States. American officials believe that the new strand could become the dominant source of infection here by March, the Times reported.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.