The coronavirus variant which has led to record hospitalisations and an ongoing lockdown in England also appears to be more deadly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
The UK mutation is already considered more contagious than the original virus strain but new mathematical analysis shows it may claim about 30 per cent more lives.
“We’ve been informed 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,” Mr Johnson said.
“It’s largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure.”
Mr Johnson said hospitalisations were 78 per cent higher now than at the peak of the first wave, with 38,000 admitted.
However the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the evidence on the variant’s mortality rate “is not yet strong”.
“I want to stress that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility,” he said.
The data was assessed by scientists on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group which briefed government.
The UK variant was first detected in Kent in September and has swept England and Northern Ireland and been detected in more than 50 other countries including Australia.
Britain’s coronavirus deaths reached a daily high on Wednesday (local time) which Mr Johnson described as “appalling” and warned it was too soon to known when restrictions might end.
England has been in lockdown since before Christmas.
UK police say they have broken up a wedding with almost 400 guests in violation of COVID-19 lockdown rules which only allow six people to attend.
Weddings are currently supposed to take place only under “exceptional circumstances”.
However, officers found hundreds of people gathering in Stamford Hill, in north London, with the windows covered to stop people seeing inside.
The organiser of the wedding could be fined up to 10,000 pounds ($17,700) and five others were issued 200-pound penalties.
“This was a completely unacceptable breach of the law,” Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett said.
“People across the country are making sacrifices by cancelling or postponing weddings and other celebrations and there is no excuse for this type of behaviour.”
The wedding took place at the Yesodey Hatorah Girls School, which serves Haredi Jewish families in the area, home to the biggest Orthodox Jewish community in Europe.
“We are absolutely horrified about last night’s event and condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” the school said in a statement.