As many as one in 60 people tested positive for coronavirus last week in England’s current hotspot, official data shows.
Department of Health figures show Harton East — a neighbourhood in South Tyneside — had an infection rate of 1,621 cases for every 100,000 residents in the week ending July 7.
Two other districts within the town — Cleadon Park and Hebburn West — also saw more than 1.5 per cent of the population test positive in the same time-frame.
All but one of the England’s 25 worst-hit areas are currently in the North East, MailOnline analysis shows. Some districts are now recording more cases than at any point in the pandemic.
Scientists are baffled as to what is behind the rapid spread, with some experts speculating a new variant may be behind the uptick in cases. Others claim partying students could be to blame, with the highly-transmissible Delta variant already dominant across the region.
Tom Hall, director of public health at South Tyneside Council, told MailOnline that the Delta strain is driving the uptick in cases, which are mainly among unvaccinated people. He said the council will continue to advise people in the region to get vaccinated and keep following Covid restrictions beyond July 19.
It comes as No10 has been told to brace for up to 2million cases over the coming weeks.
Ministers are preparing to relax all remaining legal restrictions next Monday, with Boris Johnson set to formally unveil ‘Freedom Day’ at a 5pm press conference today.
The North East continues to record the highest number of Covid cases, after overtaking the North West as the country’s virus hotspot last week (shown in top right purple section of map). The worst hit parts of England are in South Tyneside, where as many as one in 60 people are testing positive for the virus in Harton East and Cleadon Park. In contrast, just one in 416 people in London tested positive for the virus
London has comparatively low case rates compared to other major cities, with just 240 people per 100,000 testing positive for the virus in the week leading up to July 6. This is much lower than the rates in Newcastle (813), Manchester (518) and Birmingham (353)
But with infections continuing to rise across the country, concerns have been raised about going ahead with the final unlocking.
A group of 120 doctors last week penned a letter in top medical journal the Lancet saying easing restrictions was a reckless gamble.
Figures show the number of daily cases is rising by 30 per cent every seven days, amid the rapid spread of the highly-infectious Indian variant.
But there are signs the speed of growth is slowing down, with experts saying the end of Euro 2020 could lead to a drop in cases.
SAGE advisers have even claimed cases will fade naturally from next month because of growing immunity among the population.
After initially staying flat, hospital admissions and deaths are now rising quickly. One Public Health England expert warned hospitalisations could hit 3,000 a day soon.
But the vaccines have severely damaged a once-impenetrable link, with the proportion of patients who become seriously ill being just a fraction of what it was at the peak of the pandemic.
Freedom Day was originally postponed by four weeks from the original date on June 21 to give the NHS an month to vaccine millions more people amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant.
The mutant strain is now dominant in every region of England and is behind the rapid spike in cases across the North East.
Cases began rising exponentially in the region earlier this month and now appear to be doubling every 10 days, with an extra 3,669 people testing positive on July 6.
Around 706.5 cases per 100,000 residents tested positive on any given day in the North East last week — double the UK average.
Infection rates are even higher in the South Tyneside, with another 328 people testing positive yesterday, meaning cases are higher there now than at any other point in the pandemic so far.
Around 1,203 people per 100,000 tested positive for the virus in the borough, four times higher than the average across England.
In England, 11 of the 20 areas with the highest infection rates are in South Tyneside.
But promisingly, infection rates are highest among those aged 15 to 24, who are less likely to become seriously unwell from the virus.
This suggests that the high rate of infections may not lead to a similarly high spike in hospitalisations and deaths — unless the virus seeds in to older age groups.
By the end of May, the Indian mutation caused 77.7 per cent of cases across England, while the once-dominant Kent strain was responsible for just 21.8 per cent
The Indian ‘Delta’ variant is now dominant in more than 300 areas of England, MailOnline’s analysis of testing data revealed today. Figures show the ultra-transmissible strain had overtaken the formerly dominant Kent variant in 303 local authorities by June 12 — just two months after it was seeded in the country
The Indian variant is now responsible for almost all Covid cases in the country, with the most recent estimates from the Sanger Institute stating that 99.3 per cent of all cases in the two weeks up to July 3 were caused by the more infectious mutation
Mr Hall said: ‘We are seeing a rapid rise in the number of infections across South Tyneside, and across the region, in predominantly unvaccinated people, driven by the more transmissible Delta variant. Hospital admissions are rising, although at a much slower rate than during earlier phases of the pandemic.
‘If we are to drive down this worrying trend, then it is vital that everyone continues to play their part. The Covid vaccines have been shown to be highly effective, so we are doing all we can to encourage people to get both doses. By getting vaccinated, people are doing right by themselves and their communities.
‘We’re continuing to work with communities, schools and businesses to ensure they’re prepared and doing everything they can to help protect the most vulnerable.
‘We are also encouraging people to continue to follow the public health guidance around hands, face, space and fresh air – even beyond 19th July. Each and every one us needs to take personal responsibility to follow the guidance and avoid making it easy for the virus to spread.’
Outside of South Tyneside, around one in 75 people in Wombwell North in Barnsley, Durham and South Jesmond and Sandyford in Newcastle upon Tyne tested positive last week.
In parts of Redcar and Cleveland, North East Lincolnshire and Gateshead, at least one in 80 people had Covid last week.
Not everyone is getting tested, so the infection rates are expected to be even higher than the number recorded through positive tests.
But it is a mixed picture across the country, with some parts of Torridge, East Suffolk and London recording just 30 cases per 100,000 people.
Professor Martin McKee, an expert in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told MailOnline: ‘It has been clear for some weeks that something is happening in the North East but we do not fully understand it.
‘Some have speculated about the possibility of a new variant but we do not have evidence for that yet.
‘We also know that Covid-19 thrives in more deprived areas, which characterises many parts of the North East.
‘It is clearly important to understand what is happening as the same could happen elsewhere soon. Rates of infection in England could rise very high.
‘They are increasing at about 30 per cent per week at present, so you just need to project that forward. Worryingly, hospitalisations are increasing faster.
‘Clearly, removing restrictions will lead to faster increases but, on the other hand, once schools close transmission in those settings should cease.’
Professor James Naismith, a senior research fellow in structural biology at the University of Oxford, told MailOnline infection rates could get as high as one in 50 across England if the Government’s own estimates — that there could be 100,000 new infections per day by August — are correct.
He said: ‘What matters in the North East is how people respond. Typically, as the disease spreads people change behaviours, even if government does not change rules.
‘The weather the summer helps by keeping us outdoors and vaccination of younger people, as the less unvaccinated people the slower it spreads.’