Covid Indian variant 'still spreading', says Matt Hancock as cases nearly double in a week to 6,959

Should we be worried about the rising numbers of Indian Covid variant cases? ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke answers the question

Indian Covid variant cases have nearly doubled in a week and health secretary Matt Hancock said up to three-quarters of new coronavirus infections are of the mutant strain.

A total of 6,959 cases of the the Indian variant have been confirmed in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) said.

The figures, which run up to May 26, represent a rise of 3,535 on the previous week.

Mr Hancock said these are signs the strain is "still spreading", with the Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen being the areas hardest hit by the Indian variant.

The health secretary said the increase in cases of the Indian variant remained focused in “hotspots” where surge testing and vaccinations are taking place.

He told a Downing Street briefing on Thursday: “The increase in cases remains focused in hotspots and we are doing all we can to tackle this variant wherever it flares up.

“Over the past six months we now have built a huge testing capacity at our disposal and we are using this to surge testing into the eight hotspot areas and other places where the cases are lower but rising.

Credit: PA

“In the hotspot areas we are surging vaccines, too, for those who are eligible, in Bolton for instance we have done 17,147 vaccinations in the last week.”

Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen, have had 1,354, 366 and 361 cases of the Indian variant respectively.

Seven other areas in England have more than 100 confirmed cases of the Indian variant: Leicester (197), Sefton (175), Nottingham (158), Wigan (113), Central Bedfordshire (109), Manchester (105) and Hillingdon (102).

In some of these areas, hospital admissions are rising.

'We always expected cases to rise, we must remain vigilant'

Mr Hancock said cases of the virus are rising across the UK with 3,542 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours - the highest daily number since April 12.

He said: “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.

“The aim, of course, is to break the link to hospitalisations and deaths so that cases alone no longer require stringent restrictions on people’s lives.”

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Effectiveness of the vaccine

He said that, of the 49 people in hospital in Bolton, only five had two doses of the vaccine indicating the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Across England, 201 people who were confirmed to have the Indian variant had attended A&E up to May 25, resulting in 43 admissions.

Hospital attendances and admissions for Covid-19 are predominantly in unvaccinated people, PHE said.

Data from the health authority suggests the vaccine has prevented 200 deaths and 600 hospitalisations from Covid-19.

Of all the Indian variant cases confirmed in the UK, 6,180 were in England, 702 were in Scotland, 58 were in Wales and 19 were in Northern Ireland.