Covid: UK cases of Delta variant rise almost four-fold in less than a month

Credit: PA

UK cases of the Covid Delta variant have risen almost four-fold in less than a month, with England still on track to ease lockdown later in July.

The latest data from Public Health England (PHE) shows a total of 161,981 confirmed and probable cases of Delta variant have now been identified – up by 46% on the previous week.

It comes as figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed levels of infection in England and Scotland are at their highest point since February.

A Covid-19 testing centre at Mixenden Activity Centre in Calderdale. Credit: PA

Another measure of the state of the pandemic, the R number, dropped slightly this week and now stands at between 1.1 and 1.3.

When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially but when it is below 1, it means the epidemic is shrinking.

Despite the worrying numbers, Boris Johnson has said England is in the "final furlong" of coronavirus restrictions - but has acknowledged some “extra precautions” may be necessary.

People with weakened immune systems in New Zealand can now get a third shot of the Pfizer jab

Responding to the latest figures on the Delta variant, Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: "Although cases are rising, we are not seeing a proportional rise in the number of people who are being admitted to hospital.

"The data suggest this is testament to the success of the vaccination programme so far and clearly demonstrates the importance of getting both doses of the vaccine."

How Covid infection rates differ across the UK

Scotland - Around one in 150 people are estimated to have had the virus in the week to June 26, an increase from one in 220 in the previous week, and the highest level since the week to February 6.

England - Around one in 260 people in private households had Covid in the week to June 26, up from one in 440 in the previous week, and the highest level since the week to February 27.

Wales - The latest estimate is one in 450 people, up from one in 830 in the previous week, and the highest level since the week to March 20.

Northern Ireland - The ONS described the trend as “uncertain”, with a latest estimate of one in 670 people, up slightly from one in 720 in the previous week.

Looking at levels of infection among different age groups in England, the ONS said rates have increased in all age groups except those aged 70 and over - the trend there is uncertain in the most recent week.

Around one in 70 people from school year 12 to age 24 are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to June 26, the highest positivity rate for any age group.

For more Covid news, listen to our podcast - Coronavirus: What you need to know