Hancock: Indian variant is still spreading
Up to three quarters of new UK Covid cases could be of the Indian variant, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said. Public Health England data shows cases of the variant have risen by 3,535 to 6,959 since last week. Mr Hancock told a Downing Street briefing that the government had always expected cases to rise as restrictions were eased.
But he said it was “critical” to monitor the link between cases and hospitalisations. On Thursday, a further 3,542 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK.
It is the second day in a row the number of new Covid cases has topped 3,000 – the first time infections have reached this level since mid-April. Over the last seven days, cases are up 20.5% compared with the week before.
Mr Hancock told the briefing on Thursday: “The latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three-quarters of all new cases are now of this variant.
“As we set out our roadmap we always expected cases to rise – we must remain vigilant.” Mr Hancock said the increase in cases was still focused in hotspots.
The PHE data found the worst-affected areas continue to be Bolton, Bedford, and Blackburn with Darwen, which have seen 1,354, 366 and 361 confirmed cases, respectively.
PHE added, however, that there are small numbers of cases of the variant in most parts of the country. But the health secretary said there were “early signs” rates in Bolton are starting to “cap out”.
If surge testing and vaccinations are effective against the Indian variant in Bolton, this could be used as a model to prevent local lockdowns, he said. Mr Hancock said vaccines were “severing the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus”.
But he urged people to get both doses, saying that of the 49 people in hospital with Covid in Bolton only five had received two vaccinations.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, told the briefing that many of the outbreaks were centred on “focal points”, such as community centres, schools or faith buildings.
She added: “The cases actually do look as though they are starting to plateau out but the spill-over into community transmission in local areas is an important one.”
She said it was “on the cusp at the moment” over whether rising cases reflected the variant taking off or whether there was a rise because more cases were being hunted for and detected by public health experts.
Increasing cases numbers were not “generally translating into increased cases of hospitalisation and definitely not into deaths,” she said.
“So the key message there is… if we can hold it while the vaccination programme gets rolled out, we stand a much better chance of getting through this session.”