An interactive map today revealed where the Indian Covid variant was spreading fastest after data showed it was dominant in more than 100 local authorities in England.
The mutant strain had overtaken the Kent variant in 102 out of 315 areas in the country (34 per cent) by May 22, the most recent date for which data is available.
MailOnline’s analysis showed it was also spotted in 206 authorities (65 per cent) by that date and is likely to have spread even further in the past week.
UK Government scientists believe the mutant strain — dubbed B.1.617.2 — variant is at least 20 per cent more infectious than the Kent variant that sparked the devastating second wave.
Just 29 local authorities were detecting cases of the mutant strain in the middle of April, the data from the Sanger Institute – one of Britain’s largest variant-tracking labs – showed. But over the following five weeks this spiralled seven-fold, as it advanced from strongholds in London and the North West into the South East, South West and parts of the Midlands.
The Indian variant – which was titled ‘Covid Delta’ by the World Health Organization today in an effort to remove geographical stigmas – is now behind at least three in five infections in Britain and makes up more cases than the Kent strain.
Boris Johnson today faced mounting pressure over June 21 Freedom Day with some scientists warning he would have to ‘carry the can’ for a ‘bad decision’ — comparing the Indian variant to a ‘volcano’ that could engulf the country.
But other scientists say vaccines — which studies show protect against mutant strains — are providing strong protection to the most vulnerable. They added Covid is only a mild disease among young people, who are making up the bulk of new infections and are yet to be offered their first dose.
MailOnline analysis shows Covid hospital admissions are slowly creeping up across England but nearly half of all trusts are still completely empty despite fears about the Indian strain.
HOVER OVER YOUR LOCAL AREA TO FIND OUT HOW PREVALENT THE INDIAN VARIANT WAS BY MAY 22
Heat map shows how the percentage of cases being made up by the Indian variant surged between May 8 (left) and May 22 (right). It was the dominant Covid strain in just 23 English local authorities in the first week of May compared to 102 a fortnight later
Data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in London, which analyses the spread of different variants, shows that in the later weeks of May the number of positive tests that were caused by the Indian variant (light blue line) overtook those caused by the Kent variant (purple line), which had been dominant since last winter
Despite fears about the Indian variant, nearly half of all trusts are still completely empty, official figures have revealed. Graph shows: Just one NHS trust in England had more than four per cent of its beds occupied by sufferers of the virus in the most recent week data is available for (week ending May 23) [Percentage on the right shows the change in patient numbers in a week]
The Sanger Institute’s figures do not include infections picked up through surge testing and in travellers, meaning they reflect which troublesome strains of the virus are spreading in the community.
The proportions are based on the number of Indian variant cases compared to other variants identified over the two weeks to May 22. Local authorities with no cases of the variant either had no cases identified from this particular strain or no data available.
The interactive map has been presented by lower tier local authority, which splits up larger counties into smaller regions. For example, Suffolk has been divided into East Suffolk, Ipswich, Mid-Suffolk, Babergh and West Suffolk.
Scientists can find out which variant is behind an infection by analysing a swab in a lab for key mutations.
Bolton had the most Covid cases in England over the two weeks to May 22, after recording 1,517, with the new strain making up more than nine in 10 of the 1,663 positive tests.
It was followed by Blackburn with Darwen (497 cases or 95 per cent), Bedford (426 cases or 87.3 per cent), Leicester (216 or 71 per cent) and central Manchester (178 cases or 47 per cent).
But 147 local authorities where the variant was detected had less than ten cases — including Southwark, Sevenoaks and Bassetlaw — and about a third of these had just one case.
There were 86 local authorities across England where the mutant strain was not detected yet, mostly in rural areas of the South West, home counties and North East.
The Prime Minister has been coming under mounting pressure to consider delaying or watering down the end of all lockdown curbs on June 21 because of fears the Indian variant is so infectious it will eventually reach unvaccinated and vulnerable people.
There are still about 5million over-50s who haven’t been double jabbed, and studies have shown that while two doses of the vaccines are highly effective against the strain, one dose is less so.
The UK today reported zero Covid deaths for the first time since July 30 last year
MAY 22: This map shows the local authorities where the Indian variant was the dominant strain — made up the majority of cases — by the number of infections with the mutant strain detected in their areas. It is for the two weeks to May 22. Areas coloured red had more than 50 cases, orange between 10 and 49 cases, and yellow had fewer than 10 cases
MAY 8: This map shows local authorities where the Indian variant was dominant in the two weeks to May 8 – a fortnight before the most recent data
Covid hospital admissions are creeping up across England… but nearly HALF of trusts are still completely empty of the virus despite Indian variant fears
Covid hospital admissions are slowly creeping up across England but nearly half of all trusts are still completely empty, official figures have revealed.
MailOnline’s analysis of the latest NHS England data shows more than half of hospital trusts saw the average number of Covid patients in beds rise in the week ending May 23.
But the numbers are still extremely low, with just one trust having more than four per cent of its beds – one in 20 – occupied by people with the virus.
For comparison, 27 trusts out of the total 131 had more than 40 per cent of their beds taken up at the peak of the second wave in late January.
Indian variant hotspot Bolton — which has now seen cases slow down and Blackburn with Darwen overtake it as the worst affected area in the country — had five per cent of its capacity taken up by Covid patients, on average, in the week ending May 23, after an outbreak of the mutant strain put 25 more people in hospital.
And the number of inpatients in Bolton is reported to have dropped since the most recent official data, with the Health Service Journal reporting there were 43 by this morning, down from 49 last Thursday.
Of the 93 trusts where Covid hospitalisations increased in the most recent week, just 18 recorded double-digit inpatient numbers.
Just three of the eight Indian variant hotspots identified by the Government recorded double-digit numbers during the week — Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley. Blackburn and Burnley both come under the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which had an average of 10 Covid patients taking beds during the week.
Experts said the promising data indicated that vaccines are keeping people out of hospitals even if they are infected with the Indian variant, which is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country.
Professor Adam Finn, a vaccinologist and member of the Government’s JCVI, said today: ‘We’ve still got a lot of people out there who’ve neither had this virus… nor yet been immunised, and that’s why we’re in a vulnerable position right now.’
He added: ‘The truth is that a more infectious virus, which is what it looks like we’ve got, will reach people who are vulnerable – those who did not make a good response to the vaccine, those who have not yet had their doses – and that will be a problem for everyone because in the end it will be worse economically as well as for public health if we end up having to shut down again.’
Asked whether the easing on June 21 should go ahead, Professor Finn told LBC radio: ‘I fear it may be a bad decision to go with it.’
He added: ‘Scientists advise but they don’t decide, and ultimately the politicians have to carry the can for whatever decisions are made.’
But other scientists claim the fears are being exaggerated because the Government is on track to jab all over-50s by the middle of this month.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University, said scientists suggesting June 21 easings should be delayed ‘can’t even agree on what delay they’d like’.
He said the virus was now spreading predominantly in younger people for whom the disease causes mild illness, and pro-lockdown experts had failed to take this into account.
Professor Dingwall warned the economy and non-Covid healthcare would continue to suffer if the unlocking does not go ahead.
Others said there was ‘no logical reason’ not to ditch social distancing curbs as planned later this month.
‘(The virus) is really running into younger age groups who are intrinsically at much lower risk,’ Professor Dingwall told Times Radio.
‘Many of the scientists who’ve been talking over the weekend simply haven’t adjusted their expectations to understand that — for these people Covid is a mild illness in the community.
‘As the Director of Public Health for Bolton said last week, the people who are going into hospital… it’s not like January, these are not desperately ill people.
‘They’re people who need a little bit of extra support with oxygen, they need access to the dexamethasone treatment, which is very effective.
‘They go in, stay in hospital for three or four days and they go out again.
‘There is no realistic prospect of the NHS facing the sports of pressures that it faced in January and February. And that’s why I think we have to push on with this.’
He told Times Radio: ‘By the time we get to June 21, everybody who is in the nine priority groups or the highest risk will have had both jabs, and would have had a period of time to consolidate the immunity.
Professor Tony Brookes, a health data scientist at Leicester University, told MailOnline there was no reason to delay June 21 so long as the vaccine programme kept pace.
‘The focus should be on those who are not vaccinated, which are now people who are vulnerable and have chosen not to be vaccinated and the young,’ he said.
‘We know that this disease in the young is essentially trivial. Even Patrick Vallance said right from the start the vast majority of people will have this will just have a mild illness.
‘And that’s fact. In the young it has always been less severe than flu in the old, and that remains the case.
‘So no, I cannot see any logical reason for not just proceeding as intended (with unlocking).’
SCOTLAND PUTS OFF ENDING LOCKDOWN
Nicola Sturgeon heaped pressure on Boris Johnson today by putting the brakes on Scotland’s unlocking as scientists warned he will have to ‘carry the can’ for a ‘bad decision’ to press ahead with June 21 ‘freedom day’.
As the UK recorded no new deaths for the first time in 10 months, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that vaccinations do appear to be ‘weakening’ the link between cases and serious illness, and she hoped that in future the virus can be dealt with in a ‘less restrictive’ way.
But she warned that we are ‘still not quite there yet’ and must ‘err on the caution’ until more of the population has had both jabs – saying that some areas of Scotland will not go down to the lowest level of restrictions next week as planned.
Ms Sturgeon insisted that a tentative approach now would mean there is more chance of ‘staying’ on the path to a full unlocking.
The intervention came as the PM was assailed by a queue of experts warning against the full unlocking – with Prof Adam Finn among those entreating him to recognise that the UK is still ‘vulnerable’ and the ‘job is not done’.
Prof Ravi Gupta, a member of the government’s Nervtag advisory panel, suggested the timetable should be pushed back ‘at least a few weeks, probably a month’ so more data are available and schools have started summer holidays.
The British Medical Association insisted the battle against the disease is at a ‘pivotal moment’ and Mr Johnson must stick to his promise of being guided by ‘data not dates’. One consultant respiratory physician referred to ‘mini Covid volcanoes’ erupting at hospitals around the country, which are threatening to ‘explode’.
However, others have said it is still too early to be sure what can happen, with the government not committed to making any final choices until June 14.
Amid growing signs of alarm over the direction of the pandemic – even though no more deaths were recorded in the UK today – ministers have admitted that a surge of vaccine second doses is the only way to ‘keep us on the roadmap’.
But Ms Sturgeon effectively gazumped Mr Johnson – who is back at work after his ‘secret’ wedding on Saturday – as she announced she is not going ahead with dropping all of Scotland down to level one restrictions from Monday. In a chink of light for residents, Glasgow will be lowered from level three to level two from Saturday.
But the vast majority of Scotland’s central belt will remain in Level 2 restrictions, Ms Sturgeon said.
The First Minister said that Edinburgh and Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North, South and East Ayrshire, North and South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire and Stirling did not meet the criteria to see restrictions ease.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs there could even be an argument to move these areas into Level 3 restrictions, given the raw figures, but the impact of the vaccination programme has meant this would not be needed.
‘However, it is important to stress that this is a pause, not a step backwards,’ the First Minister said.
‘And Level 2 is not lockdown. It does have an impact on opening hours of pubs and restaurants and the numbers that can attend certain events.’
She added: ‘Taking a cautious approach now – while more people get fully vaccinated – gives us the best chance of staying on the right track overall.’
He claimed data suggested local outbreaks of the Indian variant were likely to peak and fall in the coming weeks.
Indian variant hotspots Bolton and Bedford are both seeing cases start to fall, while the rise has slowed in other areas.
‘My best guess on everything is that I would expect there to be a clear plateau, and for cases to be on their way down within the next two weeks,’ he told MailOnline.
‘If I’m wrong and it spikes to higher levels, this will not have major health consequences (because of vaccines).’
Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who has been tracking the virus for more than a year, today said: ‘Virtually all cases are aged under 50 or unvaccinated – so vaccines work.’
His optimism stemmed from the regular Covid Symptom Study report he complied which showed outbreaks appear to be contained to local clusters and not spreading widely across the country.
He said in a tweet today: ‘The UK hotspots clearly tell the story. The Delta variant has taken a hold of these areas but numbers are around 4,000 per day and is not taking hold more widely.
‘Virtually all cases are aged under 50 or unvaccinated – so vaccines work.’
A report produced by his Covid Symptom Study today found there were an average of 4,608 new cases of Covid per day over the past two weeks and that around 58,665 people had it at any time.
The report showed that most places on England’s outbreak watchlist had seen infection rates about stable or improving in the past week, including Leicester, Peterborough, Hillingdon, Gateshead, Bolton, Bury, Lancashire, Manchester, Tameside, Birmingham, Kirklees and Leeds.
And it revealed that the majority of cases throughout May have been in the as-yet-unvaccinated under-40s, with the rate of infection highest among 20 to 29-year-olds, followed by 30 to 39-year-olds and then under-20s.
While they all saw around 140 cases per 100,000 people in the most recent data, the figure for people in their 50s was around 30 in 100,000 and it was lower than 20 for over-60s, who are by far the most vaccinated age group.
Tory MPs have grabbed hold of the positive data to shoot down calls from SAGE advisers for the end of social distancing to be delayed.
Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘My worry is there seems to be a concerted push among scientists to stop June 21 taking place. They seem to have now moved the goalposts so we can’t open up until everybody has had two jabs. That was never part of the event.’
‘By and large everybody who is 50-plus has had two jabs now. It seems to me that everybody is trying to get in “I told you so” before the event. If it all goes well no-one will remember the scientists who said don’t do it.
‘If it goes wrong they will be up crowing “we told you”. It is a win-win for them.’
He added: ‘There is a kind of panic taking place. Project Fear is coming to an end and it is as if the scientists now cannot bring themselves to understand exactly how life will be.
‘What’s happened now will almost certainly lead to us going back to lockdown again at some point and destroying our livelihoods, our health, for non-Covid reasons.’
Conservative MP Desmond Swayne said: ‘The disease is now endemic and we must have a proper sense of proportion learning to live with it. There will be new variants from now until kingdom come, we cannot go on suppressing human interaction and economic activity as a response or we will live in fear and penury.’
And John Redwood told this website: ‘I think they will go for it on June 21. I think the data will be perfectly reasonable. The worries about cases is not really the relevant thing. The worry is about serious cases, hospital admissions and deaths – those figures all look under very good control as you would expect because of the success of the vaccines.
‘I would be very surprised if they changed course. The numbers are considerably better than quite a lot of SAGE forecasts.’
Sir John said he believed the ‘bit of adviser pushback’ would come to nothing and the public mood is shifting.
‘You can see the way people are behaving,’ he said. ‘People now feel much less at risk because they are vaccinated or low risk categories, and they want a bit more normal life. And why not?’
Thousands were pictured out with their friends and family over the bank holiday weekend and enjoying the sunny weather after an unseasonably wet and cold spring which made lockdown even harder to stomach.
|Area||# of Indian variant
cases (May 8 – 22)
|Area||# of Indian variant
cases (May 8 – 22)
|Area||# of Indian variant
cases (May 8 – 22)
|Bolton||1,517||Hart||10||East Riding of Yorkshire||3|
|Blackburn with Darwen||497||Mid Suffolk||10||Lincoln||3|
|Manchester||178||Nuneaton and Bedworth||10||Lewisham||3|
|Birmingham||151||North West Leicestershire||10||Erewash||3|
|Wigan||150||North Hertfordshire||9||Epsom and Ewell||2|
|Trafford||92||Hertsmere||9||Somerset West and Taunton||2|
|Burnley||79||Wandsworth||8||Forest of Dean||2|
|Luton||75||Swale||8||Vale of White Horse||2|
|Salford||66||Aylesbury Vale||8||Test Valley||2|
|Rossendale||60||Doncaster||8||Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole||2|
|Redbridge||34||Wiltshire||6||King’s Lynn and West Norfolk||2|
|Hyndburn||31||Bassetlaw||6||Herefordshire, County of||2|
|South Ribble||28||Rugby||6||South Bucks||1|
|Bristol, City of||28||West Berkshire||6||Mendip||1|
|Tower Hamlets||26||Stevenage||5||Bracknell Forest||1|
|Sandwell||26||Hammersmith and Fulham||5||Chiltern||1|
|Barnet||24||Gloucester||5||Basingstoke and Deane||1|
|Oldham||22||Welwyn Hatfield||5||West Lindsey||1|
|Cheshire East||20||Rushmoor||4||Brighton and Hove||1|
|Maidstone||17||Warwick||4||North East Lincolnshire||1|
|Fylde||17||Knowsley||4||North East Derbyshire||1|
|Charnwood||17||Newcastle upon Tyne||4||South Cambridgeshire||1|
|Harrow||16||Telford and Wrekin||4||Wyre Forest||1|
|Hackney||16||East Staffordshire||4||South Lakeland||1|
|Ealing||16||West Suffolk||4||Oadby and Wigston||1|
|Barking and Dagenham||16||Northampton||4||Cannock Chase||1|
|Wyre||14||Windsor and Maidenhead||3||South Derbyshire||1|
|West Oxfordshire||13||Hinckley and Bosworth||3||Redditch||1|
|Warrington||13||Rushcliffe||3||Kingston upon Hull, City of||1|
|Islington||13||Kensington and Chelsea||3||Thurrock||1|
|St. Helens||13||Tonbridge and Malling||3||Breckland||1|
|Reigate and Banstead||12||Halton||3||Corby||1|
|Kingston upon Thames||12||Cheshire West and Chester||3||South Holland||1|
|Medway||11||North Lincolnshire||3||Newark and Sherwood||1|