There’s a ‘realistic possibility’ that a new Covid variant could develop that may kill as many as one in three people it infects, according to scientists advising the Government.

SAGE has released a paper outlining how the pandemic may develop next, with one possible ‘doomsday’ scenario spreading alarm among the experts.

The potential new variant could cause ‘severe disease in a greater proportion of the population than has occurred to date’ and may have a similar mortality rate to another coronavirus, MERS-CoV, which results in death in 35% of cases.

MERS first emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and there has since been outbreaks in South Korea in 2015 and in Saudi Arabia in 2018.

It is commonly spread to humans from camels and is also known as camel flu. There have been 2,500 cases worldwide and 885 deaths.

Sage fear a Covid variant that is as deadly as MERS could develop, particularly while the circulation of the virus remains high.

Vaccines are still likely to provide some protection against serious disease, unless the virus mutates far from its original form – which many experts say is unlikely.  

But the paper notes: ‘However, an increase in morbidity and mortality would be expected even in the face of vaccination since vaccines do not provide absolute sterilising immunity i.e. they do not fully prevent infection in most individuals.’

Sage say a vaccine booster campaign in the autumn, stockpiling drugs, and efforts to minimise the introduction of new variants from other territories are all measures that can be taken to try to ensure such a super mutant variant cannot spread in the UK.

The Sage report also listed other likely scenarios including the possibility that the virus will mutate to become less lethal.

The paper states: ‘As eradication of SARS-CoV-2 will be unlikely, we have high confidence in stating that there will always be variants.’

Other experts have warned that the paper, which was released by the Government advisory group to boost its transparency, should be taken seriously.

Professor Martin McKee, an expert in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘These stark words from the Government’s own advisors underlines what many of us have been warning about and confirms there are still obstacles to overcome.

‘The government can’t be complacent, they must continue their support for the development of the next generation of vaccines and prioritise the reduction of infections here at home to reduce the possibility of another domestic variant emerging.’ 

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