BRAZIL’S new Covid variant is proving to be more deadly in young people.
Deaths tripled in people in their 20s in Brazil between January and February, when the variant began to take off in the country.
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Of those who were diagnosed with the disease, 0.13 per cent died, up from 0.04 per cent.
The figures are still relatively small compared to the death rates of elderly people.
Meanwhile, deaths doubled among those in their 30s, 40s and 50s, up to 0.32 per cent, 0.9 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively.
There were no changes in the death rates of children or teenagers.
The researchers – led by University of Parana, Curitiba – said the findings “should raise alarms”.
They said: "Taken together, these preliminary findings suggest significant increases in case fatality rates in young and middle-aged adults after identification of a novel SARS-CoV-2 strain circulating in Brazil, and this should raise public health alarms."
The study looked at data from Parana – the largest state in southern Brazil – on 553,518 cases diagnosed from September 2020 through March 17, 2021.
It is not entirely clear why young people are dying more of this variant than the original one, scientists said.
It could be because hospitals are under extreme pressure.
However, the study noted that the increase in deaths coincided with a steady decline in overall cases over two months, suggesting it is the variant itself that is more lethal.
The findings were published ahead of review by other scientists on the website MedRxiv.
The new strain, known as P1, has taken off in Brazil, where highs of 90,000 cases are being diagnosed per day.
Health systems are on the brink of collapse with more hospital patients than any point in the pandemic.
President Jair Bolsonaro – who told Brazilian’s to “stop whining” about the coronavirus earlier this month – has been critised for failures to control the outbreak, described as the “biggest genocide” in the country’s history.
Daily deaths are currently accounting for a quarter of the world’s total, with roughly 2,600 recorded each day.
Southern Brazil is seeing a sudden rise in Covid deaths among young and middle-aged adults, promoting the recent research.
Scientists have previously found signals that P1 was more deadly in the city it emerged – Manaus – but were unable to tease out whether this was only a coincidence.
IN THE UK
A total of 21 cases of P1 have been confirmed in the UK since February. Another six are “probable”.
The threat of the Brazilian variant is not only that it has shown to be more deadly and transmissible, but that it can escape immunity – either by prior infection or vaccines.
It has mutations, including one called E484K, that help it to dodge antibodies produced by the immune system.
The study in Manaus revealed that up to 60 per cent of people who had previously had Covid were “susceptible” to catching it again with the P1 variant.
Whether this will impact vaccines – which were made against the original Covid strain from Wuhan, China – is unclear.
One study by University of Oxford found the variant does not weaken the vaccines' efficacy as much as previously thought.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked yesterday if vaccines would work against the Brazil and South African strains, and if they did, could foreign travel open up.
He told Phil and Holly on This Morning: “We’re not yet sure, but we’re doing the science in Porton Down, and watching very closely, and if that all goes well, then we haven’t got a problem and then we’ll be much more relaxed about international travel. We will know more over the next few weeks.”
There has been growing concern over the spread of South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus in Europe as a third wave of Covid-19 sweeps across the continent.
A string of countries have gone back into lockdown or tightened up measures again in response to spiking infection rates.
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