UK variant of COVID-19 accounts for 18% of infections in Italy

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ROME (Reuters) - The highly contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus first found in Britain accounts for some 17.8% of all new infections in Italy, with the infection rate ticking up in many parts of the country, the health ministry said on Friday.

The estimated COVID-19 reproduction "R" number has risen to 0.95 from 0.84 a week ago, the health ministry said, as officials warned that new restrictions are likely to be announced later in the day for a number of regions.

British scientists have said the variant, first identified in southeast England at the end of last year, is up to 70% more contagious than other variants, with a mortality risk around 30% higher.

"It is probably destined to become the prevalent one (in Italy) in the coming months," Italy's National Institute of Health said in a statement on Friday.

Italy has registered 92,729 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 2.68 million cases to date.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Peter Graff)