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Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been expected to trumpet a rare success in the campaign against the coronavirus Friday: news that Britain had vaccinated 5.4 million people. By the end of the day, it was overtaken by a tentative finding that a new variant of the virus may be deadlier than the original.

That possibility, raised by preliminary studies relying on small numbers of deaths in hard-hit hospitals, remains far from conclusive. But the prospect that the fast-spreading new variant, already known to be more contagious, could also be more lethal compounded fears that even with the arrival of vaccines, the pandemic will remain a severe threat for some time.

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