'Early signs’ of possible increase in Covid cases, new official figures reveal

The proportion of people testing positive for coronavirus in England shows “early signs of a potential increase”, the Office for National Statistics has said.

Around one in 1,110 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to May 15 – up from one in 1,340 the previous week, according to the latest ONS estimates.

In its weekly report of infection estimates up to the week ending 15 May, the ONS reports that:

  • In England, the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 shows early signs of a potential increase, although rates remain low at around 1 in 1,110 people.

  • In Wales, the percentage of people testing positive remained low at around 1 in 4,340 people.

  • In Northern Ireland, the trend in the percentage of people testing positive was uncertain, equating to around 1 in 1,550 people.

  • In Scotland, the percentage of people testing positive has continued to decrease and is now around 1 in 1,960 people.

The ONS said that although the percentage of people testing positive for Covid was low in all regions, Yorkshire and The Humber, the North East and the South East all saw early signs of an increase.

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Despite the warnings, Sarah Crofts, Head of Analytical Outputs for the Covid Infection Survey, said the rates were too low to say whether this was the start of a new trend.

The new data comes amid concern of the spread of the Indian variant with cases more than doubling in the space of a week.

Public Health England (PHE) said the latest weekly data showed there were 3,424 cases of the B1617.2 mutation – an increase of 2,111 on the previous week.

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While most cases were concentrated in the North West – particularly Bolton – and London, PHE said it was seeing “clusters of cases” across the country.

Dr Meera Chand, the Covid-19 incident director at PHE, said it was essential people in the worst-affected areas who had yet to receive their second dose of the vaccine came forward as soon as it was offered.

Health officials yesterday raised concerns over a new “triple mutant” strain, that has emerged in Yorkshire.

Start of a third wave?

The latest figures came after Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that there was “increasing confidence” in Government that the vaccines were effective against the Indian variant.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that the daily case rates had not shown any “sharp increases or significant areas of concern”.

However, Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he is "very concerned" about the spread of the Indian variant.

Prof Hayward said that while "localised interventions" had helped halt the spread of other variants in the past, the Indian variant of the virus is bringing a different challenge.

Asked if the UK is at the start of a third wave of coronavirus, he said: "I think so."

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He said the strain was likely to spread beyond the communities it is already in and suggested that "generalised measures" may start to be needed to control it.