Covid-19 cases are “rising exponentially” across England – driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated age groups, according to scientists tracking the epidemic.
A study commissioned by the government found that infections have increased 50 per cent between 3 May and 7 June, as the country struggles to combat the rise of the Delta variant first detected in India.
Data from nearly 110,000 swab tests suggests Covid cases are doubling every 11 days in England, with the highest prevalence in the north west.
The Imperial College London’s React study shows the bulk of infections is being driven by children aged between five and 12, as well as younger adults aged between 18 and 24.
Infections in these age groups around five times higher when compared to those over 65, the researchers said.
Stephen Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial, said: “[Covid-19] prevalence is increasing exponentially and it is being driven by younger ages. And it appears to be doubling every 11 days … Clearly that is bad news.”
The experts from Imperial said their findings show a “rapid switch” between the Alpha variant first detected in Kent and the Delta variant in the last few weeks – with the latter now accounting for up to 90 per cent of all Covid cases.
The scientists said their findings from the React study suggest that the expansion of the vaccine programme to those aged 18 and above “should help substantially to reduce the overall growth of the epidemic”.
Adults over the age of 18 in England should be able to book their Covid jab “by the end of this week”, the head of the NHS Sir Simon Stevens said earlier this week.
React study author Paul Elliott said: “I think we can take quite a lot of comfort from the fact that when we look in the details, it does appear that there is very, very good protection in the older ages, where there is virtually everyone double vaccinated.”
Reports suggests the government is unlikely to expand the vaccine roll-out to 12 to 17-year-old children in the months ahead.
“There just isn’t the value in it,” a source on the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) group told The Times. “They are very clear they don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Academics continue to debate the controversial issue, with some arguing that the UK should follow the US and Israel and begin to vaccinate children to prevent outbreaks in schools.
Some experts have also questioned whether it is right to vaccine children, who have very little risk of becoming ill from Covid, when many vulnerable people around the world are yet to receive a jab.
On Wednesday, Mr Hancock confirmed that care home staff in England will be required to have Covid vaccinations “to protect residents” – and revealed that making jabs compulsory for people in the NHS is also being considered.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has reported that the government will consult on plans to make it legally impossible for employers to insist that staff attend their workplace, unless they can show it is essential.
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