Delta variant may lead to higher rates of hospitalisation, PHE warns

Fears voiced on day UK’s overall cases hit highest level since 26 March, with 5,274 new infections

Coronavirus in numbers

The Delta variant of coronavirus first identified in India may lead to an increased risk of hospitalisation compared to the UK’s Alpha variant, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

Delta is also now believed to be the dominant variant in the UK, having overtaken the Alpha variant, PHE experts believe, and cases have risen by 5,472 since last week, to 12,431.

“Early evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of hospitalisation for Delta (VOC-21APR-02) compared to Alpha (VOC-20DEC-02) although more data is needed for us to have more confidence in that finding,” the body said in its weekly variant case report on Thursday.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said it was imperative the British public continued to be cautious as scientists learn more about the new variant.

“With this variant now dominant across the UK, it remains vital that we continue to exercise caution particularly while we learn more about transmission and health impacts,” she said.

“The way to tackle variants is to use the same measures to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 we have used before.

“Work from home where you can, and practise hands, face, space, fresh air at all times. If you are eligible and have not already done so, please come forward to be vaccinated and make sure you get your second jab. It will save lives.”

NHS data shared with The Independent on Thursday shows that the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 in England had fallen slightly, down to 779, from 801 on Wednesday.

Bolton remains the epicentre for the Delta variant in the UK, with cases having risen by 795 over the last week, to 2,149. Blackburn with Darwen is the second worst affected area, where cases of the variant have jumped by 368 week-on-week to a total of 724.

But, PHE said, “there are encouraging signs that the transmission rate in Bolton has begun to fall and that the actions taken by residents and local authority teams have been successful in reducing spread”.

The latest PHE surveillance data, also released on Thursday, and covering the week to 30 May, showed that infection rates were rising across the country, and cases were highest in those aged 10 to 19. In that age group, rates increased to 72.3 per 100,000 people, up from 55.2 last week.

Outbreaks and “clusters” at schools have also risen in recent weeks, the latest PHE data showed.

There have been 97 confirmed outbreaks in primary or secondary schools that have had at least one variant case linked to them over the last four weeks, representing one in 250 schools.

In Scotland, the deputy first minister said on Thursday that there was currently a high number of children in hospital due to Covid.

John Swinney told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “If you go back over the last 12 months, relatively few children have been hospitalised as a consequence of Covid so we’re now seeing obviously a concentration of hospitalisation outwith the over-50s group because the overwhelming majority of that group are vaccinated and have some protection.”

Half of UK adults have now had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, government data shows, which includes the prime minister. Boris Johnson received his second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab at the Francis Crick Institute in London on Thursday evening.

A total of 26,422,303 second doses were administered between 8 December and 2 June, the equivalent of 50.7 per cent of the UK adult population, while 75.5 per cent had received a first dose. It means the government remains on track to meet its target of offering a first dose to all adults by the end of July, ministers said.

Meanwhile, government data recorded a further 18 deaths and 5,274 new cases of Covid in the UK on Thursday – the highest single-day infection figure since 26 March. It came as Delta was declared the most dominant variant across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after cases related to the B.1.617.2 mutation rose by 79 per cent in the last week.

Coronavirus case rates in the northwest of England have risen to their highest level in three months – 87.4 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 30 May, up week-on-week from 53.7 – according to the latest figures, though all regions across the country have seen some kind of rise.

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