AT LEAST 42,000 cases in the UK have been caused by the Delta variant first seen in India, new data shows.
It means infections have risen by 243 per cent since Public Health England’s (PHE) last update a week ago.
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But PHE claims the increase in the overall UK total – from 12,341 last week to 42,323 this week – is due to a change in test data.
It said the rise has been partly driven by a reduction in test turnaround times and a faster process for identifying cases of the variant.
Not all Covid cases are sequenced to see what strain they were caused by, and so case numbers are just a guide.
MPs said the figures should “set alarm bells ringing in government”.
The worrying data comes as the Government weighs up whether to lift all Covid restrictions on June 21 or to delay it by up to a month.
It was revealed last night Delta now accounts for 91 per cent of new cases in the UK, based on an assessment seen by Matt Hancock.
The strain has shown to be around 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) strain, PHE said today.
And it looks like the doubling time for cases is less than a week, which is as bad as just before Christmas, according to one leading expert.
It comes as:
- The June 21 “Freedom Day” end to Covid restrictions may be delayed for a month so Brits can receive two vaccinations, it’s reported.
- Two cases of monkeypox were diagnosed in North Wales as the Health Secretary said it is the latest viral “outbreak” he is dealing with
PHE data today also reveals there has been 42 deaths of those who have caught the Delta variant.
Of 33,206 cases analysed, 1,785 people who have had two jabs went to hospital (although this does not mean they were admitted).
Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “With numbers of Delta variant cases on the rise across the country, vaccination is our best defence.
“If you are eligible, we urge you to come forward and be vaccinated. Remember that two doses provide significantly more protection than a single dose.
“However, while vaccination reduces the risk of severe disease, it does not eliminate it.
“With data showing that Delta is significantly more transmissible than Alpha, it is just as important as ever to follow public health advice, which has not changed.
“Get vaccinated, work from home where you can and remember “hands, face, space, fresh air” at all times. These measures work, and they save lives.”
MP Layla Moran, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronaviru, said: “These figures should set alarm bells ringing in government as we approach the 21st June.
“It is particularly concerning that the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant is above the worst-case scenario modelled by SAGE, with cases estimated to be doubling every 4.5 days in some regions.
“The government must immediately explain to the public whether this exponential growth suggests the country is in line for a severe third wave, and if so what it is doing to prevent this.”
The Prime Minister this week gave his biggest hint yet that the June 21 date – which could have given to go-ahead for large weddings, concerts and nightclubs – will be delayed.
Only weddings are set to see the 30-limit lifted, Whitehall sources confirmed last night.
Brits are set to find out on Monday whether the relaxation of all rules, including social distancing, will go ahead.
But ministers have suggested a delay is on the cards.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio this morning “we don’t want to squander those hard-fought gains that we have made through the vaccination programme” as he stressed the importance of being “really careful”.
It follows weeks of pleas from scientists to delay the move so that more people can get vaccinated first.
A senior Government official yesterday told the Financial Times that fears about the new variant meant a “mix-and-match approach is probably on the cards”.
And a Cabinet minister told the paper officials are “trying to find a solution that pleases the PM’s instincts” to reopen the country.
Reports of a four-week delay to June 21 were welcomed by Jim McManus, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Public Health.
The group is warning that lifting restrictions risks cases and hospital admissions rising further.
Mr McManus told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you get enough people infected, you will get a rise in hospitalisations.
“You will also get a significant rise in long Covid, which is something we want to avoid too.
“The second thing is that the more people infected, the more variants will develop, and the more risk we have that a variant will develop that evades the vaccine completely.
One study which tracks the outbreak has also said Covid cases have doubled in one week, with an estimated 12,000 people reporting Covid symptoms each day compared to 5,700 the week before.
In terms of prevalence, on average one in 543 people in the UK currently has symptomatic Covid, according to data from the Zoe Covid Symptom Study app.
But cases are clearly rising in the young and unvaccinated, experts say.
The study gave a list of 25 places where active Covid cases were highest, with Stirling in Scotland at the top.
Meanwhile, the Government data shows reported another 7,393 cases yesterday. There has been a rise of 40 per cent in the number of cases since last week when 5,274 cases were recorded.
However, the number of deaths remains low at seven.
PHE data shows that of the 315 local areas in England, 272 (86 per cent) have seen a rise in case rates.
Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire continues to have the highest rate, with 937 new cases in the seven days to June 6 – the equivalent of 625.9 cases per 100,000 people.
This is up from 438.9 in the seven days to May 30.
Rossendale in Lancashire has the second highest rate, up slightly from 310.6 to 327.4, with 234 new cases.