Indian variant: 'Get vaccinated' says Hancock as cases of strain grow by 1,000 in days

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the surge in cases of the Indian variant

Cases of the Indian variant have risen by 1,000 in a matter of days, Matt Hancock has revealed as he encouraged the public to get vaccinated when invited to do so.

Cases of the variant have increased to 2,323 from the 1,313 previously announced by the government on Friday.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the health secretary said there were 483 cases in the hotspots of Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

Some 86 local authorities now have more than five cases of the Covid variant and the government has announced surge testing in Bedford.

Mr Hancock said of the 18 people in hospital with coronavirus in Bolton, the majority had been offered the vaccine but had not come forward to receive it.

He urged people who were hesitant of taking the vaccine to "look at what is happening in Bolton hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital, some of them in intensive care".

He went on: "Vaccines save lives... they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic."

The rise in the cases of the new variant, which is believed to be more transmissable than the Kent strain, came as the country unlocks further.

The variant has cast doubt on further opening up, including the planned removal of many restrictions on June 21.

A government adviser told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston: "It is clear some social distancing will have to be retained, not everything we've set out for 21 June is likely to happen".

The government has previously not ruled out future local lockdowns in a bid to bring down cases of the Indian variant.

People are urged to have their vaccines to give themselves the best possible chance of protection. Credit: PA Images

Mr Hancock said the latest scientific analysis of the new variant showed vaccines would be effective against it.

He added, urging caution, that high transmission of the variant "poses a real risk".

Mr Hancock said the rate of vaccination in Bolton, one of the areas hardest hit by the new variant, had "quadrupled" with 6200 vaccinations carried over the weekend.

Mr Hancock also confirmed those aged 37 and above will be asked to come forward in the latest stage of the vaccination rollout.

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Mr Hancock told MPs: “In Blackburn, hospitalisations are stable with eight people currently in hospital with Covid, and in Bolton 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus – the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but haven’t yet had a vaccine.

“This shows the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older, vaccinated groups and it underlines again the importance of getting the jab especially – but not only – amongst the vulnerable age groups.”

His opposite number on the Labour benches, Jonathan Ashworth described the country’s borders as “about as secure as a sieve”.

In full: Matt Hancock updates MPs on the Covid-19 pandemic as lockdown eases

He told the Commons: “Yesterday [Mr Hancock] warned on the television the B1617.2 variant could spread like wildfire amongst the unvaccinated.

“But does he accept we could have avoided this? Our borders have been about as secure as a sieve. The delay in adding India to the red list surely now stands as a catastrophic mis-step."