Coronavirus cases are on the up in every region of England and every age group with the biggest spikes seen in people in their 20s and the North West, Public Health England figures showed today.
The weekly figures mark an inevitable rise in infections that scientists and ministers knew would happen once lockdown rules were ended, but come alongside fears that the Indian variant is close to triggering a third wave.
Ministers remain tight-lipped about whether social distancing will be allowed to end on June 21 as planned, but Matt Hancock said there was a ‘good sign’ that vaccinated people were making up only a minority of hospital admissions.
The Health Secretary said the government is keeping a close eye on daily case levels but stressed what ‘really matters’ is how many people end up in hospital and die from the disease and how well the jabs keep numbers down.
He also appealed for the public to be patient, warning it is still ‘too early’ to say whether the planned ‘freedom day’ can go ahead.
Mr Hancock’s comments came ahead of a G7 health ministers’ meeting in Oxford, where they are expected to discuss the threat from variants.
Anxiety has been growing that the UK’s roadmap for easing restrictions might be derailed by the emergence of the strain first identified in India – now officially known as ‘Delta’.
Matt Hancock hailed ‘good signs’ over Covid vaccines today as he insisted ministers will focus on deaths and serious illness rather than infections when deciding if the June 21 unlocking can go ahead
Twelve more lives were also lost to the virus yesterday — rising a third on last Wednesday’s figure — after yesterday’s recording of zero bolstered calls for No10 to stick with its roadmap
Covid cases jumped by more than 36 per cent in a week yesterday, the eighth day in a row they have been above 3,000 and the second day in less than a week they have reached more than 4,000
Britain’s vaccine roll-out continued at pace, with 108,607 first doses dished out across the UK, taking the country’s total to 39.6million — more than 75 per cent of the adult population
‘It’s too early to say what the decision will be about step four of the road map, which is scheduled to be no earlier than June 21,’ Mr Hancock said.
‘Of course I look at those data every day, we publish them every day, the case numbers matter but what really matters is how that translates into the number of people going to hospital, the number of people sadly dying.
‘The vaccine breaks that link – the question is how much the link has yet been broken because the majority of people who ended up in hospital are not fully vaccinated.
‘That’s a good sign if you like because it means that the vaccine is clearly protecting people from ending up in hospital but it also demonstrates that we need to keep going with this vaccine programme.’
Boris Johnson insisted last night that he still sees ‘nothing in the data’ to stop June 21 going ahead, after official statistics showed Covid made up just one in 150 deaths across England and Wales last week.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to a school the PM struck an optimistic tone, but admitted infections are rising and that he needs to be ‘cautious’. He insisted people must ‘wait a little longer’ for the final decision.
As the UK recorded another 12 deaths yesterday – suggesting the zero tally on Tuesday could have been a blip – Mr Johnson said: ‘What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, against a new surge, and there I’m afraid the data is still ambiguous.
‘The best the scientists can say at the moment is we just need to give it a little bit longer.’
There have been rumours the government is planning to keep restrictions such as mask wearing and work-from-home guidance in place as a trade-off for dropping social distancing in shops and pubs.
Office for National Statistics figures revealed yesterday that Covid was behind less than one per cent of deaths in the week to May 21, the latest available. Only 66 out of 9,840 fatalities listed the virus as the underlying cause.
MailOnline’s analysis of hospital admissions showed they are only rising in the North West, where Indian variant hotspots are concentrated, going up by 24 per cent over the last fortnight of May to 177 Covid patients on wards.
Boris Johnson (pictured holding a tea party with children in Downing Street yesterday) has insisted he still sees ‘nothing in the data’ to stop June 21 going ahead
One of the Government’s top scientific advisers has also warned the UK cannot keep ‘scampering down a rabbit hole’ every time a new Covid variant emerges.
Hitting back at members of SAGE calling for a longer lockdown, Sir John Bell said ministers must instead focus on hospitalisations and deaths, which have remained flat nationally but there are signs of admissions increasing.
Sir John told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we do need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths, which is really what we are trying to manage.
‘If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away — so I think we need to get a bit of balance into the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease we are trying to prevent.’
Covid cases have remained above 3,000 for eight consecutive days in Britain.
Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has already delayed unlocking north of the border, admitting she was worried about the rapid spread of the virus.