The Indian ‘Delta’ variant now makes up 99 per cent of Covid cases in the UK and a total of 76,000 people have been officially diagnosed with it.
A Public Health England report published today revealed the fast-spreading variant has now completely taken over in Britain and the number of cases linked back to the strain has doubled in a week.
The number of people admitted to hospital after catching the variant rose more than two-fold to 806 from 383 in the past week and Indian variant deaths increased from 42 to 73.
The new fast-spreading variant, which scientists think is around 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain that was dominant over the winter, has triggered a surge in cases that led Boris Johnson abandon his plan to end lockdown on June 21, with researchers now scrambling to work out how dangerous it is.
Promising figures suggest two doses of vaccine work well against the strain, although one is not very effective, and the jabs rollout today opened up to everyone over the age of 18 in the UK.
PHE’s report today showed that, since the variant was first discovered in April, the most cases have been found in Bolton in Greater Manchester, where 4,684 positive tests had been linked to the strain by June 14.
Other hard-hit areas were in the North of England or Midlands, too, with Manchester (3,102), Blackburn (2,762), Birmingham (1,948) and Leeds (1,642) filling out the five worst-affected places.
The UK Health Security Agency’s Dr Jenny Harries said: ‘Cases are rising rapidly across the country and the Delta variant is now dominant… It is encouraging to see that hospitalisations and deaths are not rising at the same rate.’
Britain yesterday recorded its highest number of cases since February 19 in the second wave, with 11,007 positive tests, but there are signs outbreaks are coming under control in the northern areas hardest hit by the strain.
Dr Harries added: ‘The increase is primarily in younger age groups, a large proportion of which were unvaccinated but are now being invited to receive the vaccine.
‘It is encouraging to see that hospitalisations and deaths are not rising at the same rate but we will continue to monitor it closely.
‘The vaccination programme and the care that we are all taking to follow the guidance are continuing to save lives. Please make sure that you come forward to receive both doses of the vaccine as soon as you are eligible. Don’t drop your guard – practice “hands, face, space, fresh air” at all times.’
Despite concerns about the numbers of positive tests spiking, there are signs the outbreak is slowing down and that vaccines are protecting people well against the variant.
Only one in 10 people who were admitted to hospital with the new strain had been given both their jabs, showing that vaccines protect well because the majority of people becoming severely ill are unvaccinated.
Just 84 out of 806 admissions were among people who had been given both vaccine doses. 135 happened after someone had protection from their first dose and 587 were among people who were unvaccinated, unknown or had had their first dose within the past three weeks meaning they were unlikely to have any immunity.
In an analysis of 60,624 of the 75,953 cases since February 1, PHE found that just 4,087 infections were among people who had been given both their vaccine doses – seven per cent or one in every 14.
Official Department of Health infection data show that the average daily rate of increase in positive tests had halved in a week up to yesterday.
And in another sign the outbreak is losing speed, a symptom-tracking study estimated that 15,760 people are now getting sick each day — up only a third in a week after doubling a week earlier.
Professor Tim Spector, the King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the Covid Symptom Study, said: ‘The numbers this week seem to be slowing down, which is good news. Worrying areas with a high number of cases like Scotland and the North West are starting to level off.
‘I’m predicting based on past experience that, although we may not have reached the peak quite yet, within two weeks we will see cases beginning to drop again.’
But he insisted the PM’s decision to put ‘Freedom Day’ on hold until mid-July was ‘probably necessary’ as his study showed vaccines are doing a huge amount of heavy lifting and slashing case numbers.
Explaining that jabs could be protecting areas against bigger surges, Professor Spector said: ‘Wales in particular has seen tangible benefits from a faster than average vaccination rate, where they previously had some of the highest rates in the country, we are now seeing clear protection against rises.
‘Wales is now several weeks ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of vaccinations, so it looks like the rest of us will soon follow suit.’